This post was written by Erica the Intern
As a senior in college, I’ve come to the conclusion that internships are probably the best way you can spend your free time during those four years of higher education, especially if they’re paid. I’ve also come to another conclusion: It’s one thing to obtain an internship, but it’s another thing to be a great intern. After three internships, and in the midst of a fourth, I’ve seen what it takes to be a great intern. I’ve fudged and been the mediocre intern, but I have since learned from my intern “noob” days. Below are my “5 Tips on How to Be a Great Intern:”
- Pick the right internship: The first step to being a great intern is to obtain an internship with a company you actually like, in an industry you give two hoots about. If you’ve put in the effort to build your resume through extracurricular activities and “starter internships” (less intense, get-your-feet-wet internships), then you deserve to work for a company that you value, and that values you. If you couldn’t care less about the plastic cup industry, you’ll probably find an internship with a plastic cup company pretty boring. Figure out what industries you want to work in and then find companies within those industries that have the same personal and professional values that you do. If you don’t pick an internship that you like (or love!), you probably won’t make it to “great intern” status. (Some fantastic websites to find internships include: The Intern Queen, Internships.com, Intern Match or Indiana Intern if you live in Indiana.)
- Set goals: Once you’ve picked the right internship, you’ll want to set some goals. Though this tip seems to be in every blog post ever written, there’s a reason for it. It’s important to set goals, especially during your internship. And by “set goals” I don’t mean things like “I want to gain professional experience.” Of course you want to gain professional experience; that’s why you’re an intern. The more specific, measurable and attainable a goal is, the better. Some examples include “I want to learn how to properly develop a strategic marketing plan,” or “I want to learn how to deliver effective presentations.” Once you set measurable and attainable goals, let your boss know what they are. If you let your boss know what you want to get out of the internship, he/she will be able to tailor your internship experience to fit your goals.
- Exceed expectations: This is the tip that separates the “good” interns from the “great” interns. Chances are, you were hired as an intern because of your skill set and knock-out interview. This means that your employers have some basic expectations: a) you’re competent and mildly intelligent b) you’re willing and ready to learn c) you can do the tasks they want you to do in a professional manner. (If you don’t live up to those expectations, you’ve got problems.) But, if you want to be a great intern that is nothing short of the-bomb-dot-com, you’ve got to exceed those basic expectations. This is pretty easy to do. You can show initiative by making your own projects (after you complete the ones you’ve been assigned), you can learn new skills or programs, or you can even just show up with a positive attitude and get to know the people in your office. Whatever you do, use your down time to improve your professional skills, which will allow you to exceed expectations.
- Blend in to stand out: This might sound confusing, but it’s really simple: Make your employer and co-workers forget you’re “the intern.” A great side goal is to become an integral part of your team. This means being able to complete tasks without a lot of direction or oversight, using your time wisely (e.g. not spending hours on Facebook, online shopping websites or homework), contributing good ideas and generating discussions, and generally not acting like a 20-something year old college student majoring in partying and hangovers.
- Make connections: Employers know that networking while you’re in college is a key component in landing a job after graduation. As a great intern, you not only want to connect and pick the brains of your employer, but any other professionals in your field that you have the opportunity to meet. If your internship coordinator doesn’t give you a card, invest a few bucks and get some business cards. Pass those things out like candy on Halloween, and collect them like trading cards. After you get someone’s business card, send them a thank you note via snail-mail (the best option) or an e-mail, and then connect with them on social media. (I suggest connecting on LinkedIn or Twitter, if your tweets are 75% professional, but not your personal Facebook.) Do your best to maintain those connections and you may just have some job interviews or offers waiting for you after graduation (aka the best graduation present ever).
I’ve been the intern who picked the wrong industry, or did homework during my down time, or failed to exceed expectations. So take it from me, a former mediocre intern: You and your employer will get the most out of your internship if you decide to become a great intern.
Peter Dunn a.k.a. Pete the Planner® is an award-winning financial mind and a former comedian. He’s a USA TODAY columnist, author of ten books, and is the host of the popular radio show and podcast, The Pete the Planner Show. Pete is considered one of the foremost experts on financial wellness in the world, but he’s just as likely to talk your ear off about bass fishing.