Congratulations, you finally scored that internship! Now you’ll be able to learn more about a field you might want to pursue … and you might even make a little money! And while the coveted “paid internship” is always a win-win for college students, an internship is about more than just money: It’s about opportunity.
An internship is an opportunity to showcase your current skills and develop new ones that will impress future employers—think of it as a 90-day job interview! It can be so much more than a temporary job if you know what you want to get out of the experience.
So how can you make the most of this opportunity? We talked to career experts and professionals who work with interns to get the scoop for you.
Most important things to get out of your internship
1. Relationship building
Building a good relationship with your manager or supervisor should be a top priority, says Sheena Frydrych, career services advisor at Rasmussen College’s Green Bay campus. They’re the ones you’ll be asking to write you a letter of recommendation or to be a reference for future job opportunities.
Don’t forget about your coworkers, either, Frydrych says—it’s important to network with them because they’re likely to know about other opportunities in your field.
Carol Queen works with interns every summer at the San Francisco-based Center for Sex & Culture. Even more important than her letter of recommendation, she says, is the networking interns do with others who work with their organization.
“This is an opportunity to meet people whose books they may have read or who are doing work comparable to the work they dream of doing,” Queen says. “In my view it's the most valuable thing we can offer them.”
“The kiss of death for an intern is to sit in his or her cubical and wait for people to come and assign work.”
2. Knowledge of the field
Obviously you learn a lot in your classes, but classes can only teach you so much. Hands-on experience is essential, Frydrych says. You’ll learn what’s actually happening in the field and can see if it’s what you really want to do.
3. New skills for your resume
Whether this is your first real job experience or your tenth, you’re bound to learn new skills you can boast about to future employers.
Frydrych says you should reflect on what you did each day and make note of what new experiences you had and what new skills you gained. This will help with resume preparation after your internship—you won’t be thinking back with some vague idea of what you did—you’ll have concrete examples.
Julie Braun, co-founder of SuperInterns, says those examples will be important in the future. “Interns who obtain results can later show how they saved their company money, time and energy on a resume or in an interview.”
How should you get those skills? Don’t wait for the jobs to come to you. Ask for projects to work on!
“The kiss of death for an intern is to sit in his or her cubical and wait for people to come and assign work,” says Jodi R.R. Smith of Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting.
4. Time management skills
You’ll need to treat the internship as if it’s an actual, permanent job. In fact, Frydrych says it’s more like an ongoing job interview because everything you do will be looked at and reviewed.
“Everything they do is important to really showcase the best skills that they have so the employer is confident with what they have to offer,” Frydrych says.
So like with any job, you’ll likely be given multiple projects and expected to juggle them. And you’ll be balancing your job, social life and maybe even classes at the same time. It might sound like a challenge, but if you can multitask successfully in this environment, it will help you out when you have a full-time job.
5. Understanding of your future career goals
You likely have a vague idea of what you want to do when you graduate. After all, that’s why you chose your program of study and why you’re now looking for an internship. But how do you know that’s what you really want to do? Your internship experience should help.
“Regardless of what’s being taught in your courses, you want the hands-on experience.”
At the end of your internship, you should know if the field is right for you. Kelly Kepner, of Kelly Kepner PR, says you’ll either want to develop your skills and experience in that area or you’ll want to explore another. “Most importantly, you should be able to gauge whether or not you're generally interested in that field.”
6. A job
OK, this one might seem like a no-brainer, but we actually don’t mean getting a job at the company for which you’re interning. If you love the job and company, that might be a good goal. However, you might want to see what else is out there, or maybe that company isn’t ready to hire anyone when you graduate.
This is where those connections you built from the first tip can come in handy.
“A lot of times, if someone has built a really strong rapport, the manager would be more likely to recommend them somewhere else, too,” Frydrych says. If you are shooting for a position with that company, she recommends checking in with your former manager periodically to see if any positions have come up.
In conclusion …
An internship is just the first rung on the ladder to a great career and comfortable salary. But it is also the perfect place to start to hone your skills and learn about different fields. Internships allow you to make connections, perfect your time management skills and learn more about your future career goals. And, of course, you’ll gain valuable experience.
“Remember that it’s an opportunity to see what’s happening in the field,” Frydrych says. “Regardless of what’s being taught in your courses, you want the hands-on experience.”
Now that you have these expert internship tips, you’re ready to ace that internship and get the most out of the experience. If you’re interested in learning even more internship tips and ideas, connect with one of Rasmussen College’s Career Services Advisors!