This week we are going to focus on our up-and-coming leaders. To all those starting internships or those who want to pass on tips to a young leader that they know, here are a few reminders for making the most of your internship. While just landing the internship is an accomplishment that you should be very proud of, it really is just the beginning. This time is a chance to grow skills, network, and gain new insights. However, to do all that, simply showing up is not enough. So here are a few tips to help you squeeze every last drop of opportunity from your internship.
Taking notes is a must at an internship, and while it might seem too obvious to be mentioned, it is still too often neglected. One of the easiest ways to demonstrate that you respect someone else’s words and time is to note them. I’ll never forget when I brought out my laptop to take notes on my first day, and my new boss commented that no one had ever taken notes before. I had an opportunity to catch up with her a while later and asked how her recruits were doing. She responded that it wasn’t going well, they weren’t keeping up, and no one took notes to track the work being done during one-on-one meetings.
Another obvious, but too often ignored, tip is always to stay busy. There are always specific jobs that everyone might chip away at but are never finished. While you are learning the ropes in your first week, keep an eye out for those never-ending projects. If you need to, you can ask for work to do in your down moments, but it shows even more initiative if you can identify and accomplish those tasks without prompting. That being said, be sure you know how to do the task properly. An excellent way to make enemies at work is to make a project take twice as long because you messed it up the first time.
One effective way to network with those already established in the company is to schedule one or two coffee meet-ups a week. Basically, this would entail asking anyone you respect in the company if you can buy them a coffee and have 15 minutes of their time to hear about their career path and any words of wisdom they have (while you take notes on any pertinent details). The free coffee gets you in the door, and people generally love talking about themselves and sharing advice. The cost of the coffees does add up, especially on a college student budget, but it is an opportunity to learn from others’ experiences along with a chance to stand out among other interns. Bonus points are given for writing down their exact order so that if later in the internship you want to buy them a coffee out of gratitude, you can get them their preferred choice of beverage.
Find a mentor
As you are scheduling coffee meet-ups, keep in mind that this would be an excellent opportunity to find a mentor. This is something that needs to be approached thoughtfully and humbly. If you find a candidate that you feel you match well with and from whom you can receive correction, there is still another step before you approach them about possible mentorship. Assess what you know about their life. Are they in the middle of an all-consuming project? Do they have any personal issues that you are aware of? Or is this some transitional time for them in any way? If the answer to any of these are yes, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask, but if you do request a mentorship, perhaps acknowledge that it might be a bad season for them, and you understand and respect that. Even if it is the easiest season of their life, they still can say no. Possible mentors are not obligated to say yes and owe us nothing, so it is good to keep our pride in check. We are asking for a favor, not demanding something we are entitled to.
You’ve worked hard to gain this internship, and this is providing you with a chance to determine if this is a job, company, or career path that you’d find interesting and perhaps even enjoy. Don’t let this opportunity pass you by! Follow these tips to leverage this time to gain valuable experience, grow your network, and begin exploring what a challenging and fulfilling career could look like.