Author: Gina Mason/October 14, 2013
Despite common misconception, internships can be more than making copies, filing papers and going on mid-afternoon trips to Starbucks. The saying “you get out what you put in” applies to all internships and going that extra mile may not only help you figure out your path to your dream job, but it may also be lead you to landing that first job.
Although the work may seem mundane, internships are a great opportunity to gain news skills, meet new people and discover your interests. I did several internships before landing my first real job and each experience (good and bad) helped me figure out what I actually wanted to do with my life.
Now I don’t know about you, but as an undergrad I changed my mind about 50 times when it came to what I wanted to do when I “grew up.” I knew that I enjoyed writing and that I liked sports, but outside of those two very broad options, I had no idea! After four internships, lots of long hours and about 1000 cups of coffee, I realized that I not only loved public relations, but that I wanted to work in an industry that incorporated my passion for sports.
To fully take advantage of an internship, you need to do more than just show up. To make each internship worth your while, you need to apply yourself, work hard and soak in as much information as possible. Here are a few tips that I used during my internships to make sure that I got that most out of each one.
The sooner the better
My philosophy is that it is never too soon to start interning. The sooner you try something, the sooner you will know for sure if it is something that you like to do. Try to take advantage of every semester and every break possible. Although it may stinks that you can’t be partying at the beach with your friends, it will pay off in the long run. The experience that you get while interning is invaluable and gives you the ability to sample different careers for a short amount of time. Not to mention the more internship and work experience that you have, the more attractive you will be to future employers. In this difficult job market, work experience is everything and one or two internships may make the difference between getting a job and not getting a job.
Take the initiative
Don’t just go through the motions to get things done and go home. Be a go-getter. If you finish a task, ask if there is anything else you can help with. Employers will recognize if you are eager to learn and may give you more responsibility, which will only give you more experience to put on a resume.
In my book, there is no such thing as a stupid question while interning. People don’t expect you to come into an office and understand how to do everything right off the bat. This is a learning experience, so don’t be shy. If you don’t understand something, speak up and don’t be afraid to ask for help. I would rather ask a million questions and understand how to do something correctly rather than do something wrong and have to redo it later.
Use coworkers a resource
Have a conversation with the people around you. Get an understanding of the office dynamic, how employees grow within the company and what the industry expectations are. Ask coworkers about the pros and cons of their jobs. This will help you gauge if the job is something that you could see yourself doing for an extended period of time. During one of my internships, a coworker honestly told me “this job and this industry is extremely demanding and if you want to work in it you better be sure you are ok with missing holidays, weddings and birthdays.” Although his advice it was a little shocking at first, it really made me think about my work/life balance and if that profession was right for me.
Maintaining a positive outlook is not only attractive to potential employers, but it also will help you get through boring tasks like organizing file cabinets. Just remember as unglamorous as things are at the bottom, everyone has to work their way up and pay their dues at some point. Just be grateful for the experience and keep in mind that even though the work may seem trivial, interns are an integral part in the workplace.
Make connections not contacts
During your internship develop relationships with people that you meet. Don’t just collect business card and expect to email people a year later when you are looking for a job. Make a personal connection and make yourself memorable. Send follow up emails frequently so your new contacts don’t’ forget about you. Develop these relationships, because you never know when you may need their help.
Build on your experiences
After your internship is over, take time to carefully evaluate the job that you did, the company that you worked for and the industry that you worked in. Ask yourself if you could see yourself doing that job or if you should refocus and move onto something else. If you didn’t like your internship, try something unrelated in a different field. It truly is all about finding something that you wouldn’t mind doing for the next 50 years. As my father always told me, “if you don’t like what you do, you shouldn’t be doing it.”
Internships are a great way to expand your horizon and try new things. Not only can you gain great work experience, but you may meet some great people along the way.
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