The 6 Most Important Internship Tips and Takeaways

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Awesome news—you’ve landed an internship! While this might seem like something simple, there are plenty of reasons to be excited. One of the biggest reasons to get excited about an internship is that it presents an opportunity to grow.

These experiences allow you to showcase your current skills and develop new ones that will impress future employers—think of it as a long-term job interview! It can be so much more than a temporary job if you know what you want to get out of the experience.

The skills that you hone during an internship will take you from educated to experienced. Formal education provides you a foundation of skills, but there’s no substitute for doing real work in a professional setting.

“You might become a good writer through education, but you only learn how to work at a magazine by working at a magazine,” says Rhiannon D’Averc, chief editor at London Runway.

So how can you make the most out of your internship experience? We talked to career experts and professionals who supervise interns, plus successful former interns themselves, to get the scoop for you.

The tips and takeaways for making the most of your internship

Consider this expert advice before beginning you internship to ensure you make the most of the valuable experience.

1. Focus on building relationships

The relationships you build during your internship will be the foundation of your professional network, says Artie Shlykov, SEO coordinator and former intern at Wild Apricot. “These connections you build during your internship have the best potential to positively impact your career.” Your supervisor and others you work with are the references you’ll ask for letters of recommendations in your future endeavors.

How do you build positive connections and professional relationships? Julie Kelly-Hoey, author of Build Your Dream Network, says while doing great work helps, establishing relationships is key.

“Be proactive. Show up every day prepared to take on additional responsibilities and to help colleagues out without being asked and be a great teammate,” Kelly-Hoey says.

Building those strong relationships will not only help you enjoy your internship day-to-day, you’ll also be cultivating opportunities for the future. Kelly-Hoey estimates that 70 percent of jobs are found through networks.

“Personal connections move resumes from the black hole of online applications onto the hiring manager’s desk,” she says. Networks may even reveal the hidden market of exciting, never-posted jobs even when organizations don’t appear to be hiring.

“Even if there are no jobs posted, if a company really values your talents and skills, they may work to bring you on board in a creative way,” says Kelly-Hoey.

2. Gain knowledge of the field

Internships give you a scoop on what it’s really like to work in your desired industry. Though you may know the nuts and bolts of a field from your education, working in it will be a whole new experience. This is your chance to learn about and focus on the practical day-to-day work that’s done in your field.

Now is the best time to find out what roles and fields are the best for you. Remember, your internship doesn’t have to be a be-all, end-all. Think of it as a trial run to test your interest in a position or field, says Alex Tran, digital marketing strategist at Hollingsworth. She encourages interns to ask questions and show a genuine interest in a variety of roles. Even if your internship focuses on a specific niche—for instance, sales when pursuing a Marketing degree—you can get a feel for the daily work of other focus areas during your time.

3. Add new skills to your resume

Though you may lose touch with your fellow interns and supervisors over time, you won’t lose the skills you gained at your internship. No matter how wonderful your university program, it’s likely that you didn’t learn many of the updated techniques and standards for your industry.

D’Averc has found that many of her interns have found it difficult to brand to a new way of doing things. “They have to be willing to learn and be flexible,” she says.

“Be sure to let your supervisors and colleagues know you’re open to constructive feedback,” says Timothy Wiedman, retired professor of management and human services at Doane University. This will not only improve your performance, it shows that you’re willing and excited to learn, a widely admired trait.

Though you’ll be learning many valuable skills as an intern, pay attention to the person who has the job you want. The goal of an intern is to learn and advance, so don’t be afraid to think ahead. Though you shouldn’t ignore your current duties, an intern should be paying attention to skills that could help them in their next role, according to James Pollard at The Advisor Coach. Observe and even ask:

  • What skills do they use on a daily basis?
  • What skills or focus areas are they working on learning right now?
  • What about their demeanor or temperament makes them successful in their position?
  • What do they want to improve on?

4. Create career goals

As you observe and spend time at your internship, you’ll get a feel for what you like and what you don’t. This will help you shape your immediate and long-term career goals.

“Internships offer a priceless opportunity to get a taste of what you could expect,” says Valerie Streif, senior content manager at Pramp. Even if you don’t love your current duties, look around the office for something you might like or consider if you might enjoy your role more in a different company.

5. Gather glowing references

The lasting reward of completing an internship is the references. If you impress them, you’ll be able to draw on your manager’s recommendation for future job opportunities or graduate programs. How do you make sure you do the best job you can and snag some stellar references?

“They key is to stand out by working hard, showing interest, taking every task seriously, making friends and generally making a great first impression,” says Jonathan Poston, director of technical SEO at Tombras.

By taking your work seriously, you’re likely to succeed and impress your supervisors. “If an intern succeeds on a project, I will always provide a glowing reference,” says Tran.

6. Score a job

What will you be using those references for? Job applications! As your internship experience winds down, be sure to ask your supervisor whether they’re willing to provide a reference and the best email or phone number for them to put on your resume or application.

If you’re hoping to snag a job at the company you’re interning at, our experts have a few tips for you. At your exit interview, be sure to express interest in applying for full-time positions at the company. “Ask what steps they can take to interview for a post-graduate opportunity and then be sure to follow up with their supervisor and anyone else they talked to about that, including HR,” says Stacie Garlieb, president at Successful Impressions.

Keep an eye out for opportunities to help build up the company where it’s lacking, says Jeff Kear, owner and cofounder at the Planning Pod. Showing that you’ve noticed this and you have ideas and a strategy, will impress managers in a job interview. If you can do this well, this ability will help you beyond just getting hired. “Helping the company out in an area of weakness and turning it into a strength can lead to other opportunities within the organization,” says Kear.

Make the most of your internship

By scoring this internship, you’re taking a big step toward a potential lifelong career. It’s not just a potential paycheck—it’s an opportunity to grow as professional. By creating strong connections, building a network, gathering references and learning new skills, you’ll be closer to success than ever.

But first, you have to start. Nervous about your first day? Boost your confidence with our article “A Beginner’s Guide to Mastering Professionalism in the Workplace.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was originally published in 2014. It has since been updated to include information relevant to 2019.

Kirsten Slyter

Kirsten is a Content Writer at Collegis Education where she enjoys researching and writing on behalf of Rasmussen College. She understands the difference that education can make and hopes to inspire readers at every stage of their education journey.

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