Landing an internship is arguably one of the most crucial steps you can take toward launching your career after college. And it’s not just about adding another bullet point to your resume: From the people you meet to the skills you learn, every moment you’re on the clock is an opportunity to grow, make personal connections, and figure out if you’re on the right track professionally.
No pressure, right?
A solid internship experience can create the ultimate domino effect, setting you up for a smooth transition from college to career. But what does it mean to make the most of an internship and impress everyone you’re working with? Here are some strategies to be sure you’re maximizing your experience.
Find your future self
It’s important to work well with all of your coworkers, but let’s go back to the main goal of an internship here: to set you up for your dream job. While you’re getting to know the team, find the one or two people on staff whose job you would love to have one day. Pay extra attention to nurturing those relationships. You don’t need to send a formal “Will you be my mentor?” email; instead, ask them if you can meet for coffee before work or join them for a walk in the afternoon to hear more about what they do. As you chat, slowly begin asking questions about how they’ve navigated their career to get to where they are today. And don’t let the conversation end there. Find key opportunities to ask for their advice on a project you’re working on once or twice a week. It’s a natural way to nurture a mentor-mentee relationship.
Anticipate the needs of your coworkers and supervisors
Yes, of course, an internship is all about learning about and getting a taste of your potential future career. But what’s also important is making a good impression on your supervisors — who are the ones writing your letters of recommendation, and have the power to invite you back to the company in the future. One big way to do this is to anticipate their needs, and making it one of your top internship priorities to fulfill those needs. It may take a few days or even weeks to figure out what these needs are, but doing so will guarantee they’ll be sad to see you go once your internship ends. That could help lead to the win of all wins: Having you back in a full-time capacity.
Study the office culture
Fitting in with folks at the office doesn’t always come second nature. Try to adapt as quickly as possible. Take your cues from your higher-ups. If your supervisor is wearing heels or loafers and nice slacks or a dress every day to work, maybe leave your Chuck Taylors and hoodie at home. If everyone meets up for ping-pong tournaments at lunch or happy hour on Tuesdays, take it as a cue and participate. Learning how to communicate is key, too. Some offices can be more social than others, where everyone is bouncing around ideas out loud and constantly chattering at one another’s desks. Other offices might appear deceptively quiet because it’s part of the culture to communicate in a giant group chat online.
Keep things professional at after-work events
Awesome, you got an invite to an outside-of-the-office hangout with your coworkers! While it’s totally fine to get to know the people you work with better in a social, non-office setting, don’t forget that they are still your coworkers — meaning it’s important to keep things professional. After all, you don’t want stories about behavior you may be less-than-proud about, or even gossip that you participated in, getting around the office — or worse, to your supervisor.
Did your manager send you a nice email after you helped them finish that killer project? Did your coworker give you a shoutout in a group chat for running a flawless meeting? Keep track of every single kudos or compliment you receive, along with details about the work that earned them. When you’re debriefing with your supervisor at the end of your internship, you’ll have the chance to remind them of all the great work you’ve done and make sure it’s the last impression they have on your way out.
Invest in good thank-you notes
When it’s all over, send thank you notes — handwritten and everything. And there’s a kind-of sneaky reason to give thank-you cards that are so nice looking, people will want to display them on their desk rather than toss them in the junk drawer: When you reach out for a referral or recommendation some day, they’ll have no trouble remembering that nice intern who worked there last summer or last semester.
Remember that you’ve earned a spot at the table
Just because you’re an intern doesn’t mean you have to skulk in the shadows or sit in the back during meetings. You can’t make an impression if you never leave your cubicle or speak up when you’ve got valuable input to add. If others don’t immediately introduce themselves to you, be the first to hold out your hand and say “hi.” You’ve earned a spot on the team and you belong there. Say that a few times in the mirror before you head into work each day if you need an extra confidence boost.
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