This generation of young professionals face a competitive job market. Companies that are hiring interns or full-time employees are looking for the cream of the crop. They hire someone with the mindset that it is an investment for their company. When choosing between candidates, the HR director will choose someone that stands out from others because of their skills, broad experience, and communication skills.
Making yourself a marketable job candidate doesn’t happen over night. Why do you think the Career Development offices and advisors stress an internship so much? There is a surplus of career-seeking individuals with a limited supply of spots.
This is why you need to make yourself STAND OUT! And this all starts by getting an internship, but doesn’t end there. Sure, you have a good resume with a bunch of volunteer experience and job references that can land you an interview. Making the most out of these opportunities is really what counts- not just showing up. Being a good intern doesn’t mean making the coffee and arriving on time. I am going to provide a list of tips that I have learned throughout my internship endeavors. I’ve worked in different types of companies (corporate, mom and pop, start up) and have gained a pretty solid foundation of how to not only be a good intern, but gain knowledge and skills from an internship along with building professional relationships that will help you network and market yourself in the long run.
1. First & foremost- COMMUNICATE! COMMUNICATE! COMMUNICATE! If you don’t know how to do something or are unsure, ASK. Your supervisors don’t expect you to know the in’s and out’s of the company on the first day. In fact, they probably are too caught up with their own work to realize they gave you a task that you haven’t been trained in yet. Also, they rather you do it the right way the first time than have to re-do it five other times.
2. Be friendly & social in the workplace- Yes, at first the CEO and big shots might be intimidating in passing, but ALWAYS say hi or smile at staff! They will notice and start smiling/saying hi first! I co-interned with a girl that would look at her feet when she passed every full-time employee in the company. One day, I was in line at Starbucks across the street and two employees didn’t know I was behind them. The entire time they were on line, they talked about this intern, how she never smiled, and had terrible communication skills. People notice!
3. Tasks will be assigned to you that have nothing with your position. Just do them. You’re not going to love every assignment you are given- but if you accept without hesitation, it shows that you are flexible and are willing to go above an beyond for a job. This will benefit you tremendously in the long run if you need references/recommendations for a full-time position!
4. Keep an extra set of headphones in your desk drawer. An office can have a lot of background noise that goes unnoticed until you are trying to concentrate. It can be very distracting, especially if you overhear people’s conversations. Music helps me tune into whatever I am doing. However, I have two sets of headphones because I used to always bring mine home at the end of the day to workout and then forget them the next day! Working all day without my choice of music was torture!
5. Never put your intern position above school. School comes first! Occasionally, your supervisor may ask you to work a few extra hours a week if the company is busy. In my case, I interned in the fashion industry and took 5 classes (not to mention was commuting 1 hour to NYC). My supervisors would ask me to help host several events that fell on class days. I wanted to accept SO desperately! Not to only show how committed I was, but it seemed so glamorous and fun! I skipped class one time to attend a Fashion Week Event…which consisted of me standing at a door way with a fake smile for 6 hours. I ended up missing a really important lecture and totally regretted it. The point is, you are not a full-time employee, you are a full-time student. Classes and school should come first. If you have a huge test one week, cut down your hours one day to study. The staff will understand! They know you have other responsibilities, the internship isn’t supposed to suffocate you.
6. Always double check/read things over before you hand it over to the person that assigned it. A big part of being an intern is doing small tasks that help the company’s big plans come alive. For example, inventory lists, spread sheets, data entry. All of those duties are actually really crucial to the company and if they are entered wrong, can cause many problems. I always double check the work assigned to me. Also, Re-READ E-MAILS BEFORE YOU SEND THEM! The generation above us seem to be sticklers for good grammar.
7. Be a Leader. You may be working on a team of interns. Don’t be afraid to take charge and input your own ideas. Companies like to see that individuals can work well with others and facilitate group work. However, it is easy to become friendly with the other interns and get caught up in goofing off. This is certainly appropriate on a lunch break or once work is over!
8. Don’t show up hungover. Everyone you are working with was 21 once. They know what a hungover college student looks like when they see them. Save it for a day you have a later class or the weekend. You choose to make this internship a commitment. It looks irresponsible and immature when you come to work still drunk from the night before. They’ll notice and assume you don’t take work seriously.
9. Offer help if you have nothing to do. If it’s a Friday afternoon and you still have 2 more hours left, shoot out a group e-mail to your department reminding them that you are there and have time to help. I’m fairly new to my internship this semester, so people in my department forget I am there. The past two days, I haven’t received many tasks. I decided to send out an e-mail saying that I was working until 3 p.m if anyone needed help with anything. Immediately, I received two replies from employees stating that they didn’t know the hours/days I worked yet and forgot to ask me.
10. Don’t panic or become stressed out. If you work for a corporate company, multiple people may assign you tasks. Half of them probably aren’t as important as they seem or don’t need to be done immediately. Find out which tasks are of highest priority and go forth. Again, you are not a full time employee– therefore you should not be overwhelmed with work!
13. If you have an office space, make it unique! Bring some pictures of friends and family, post uplifting quotes, and keep some snacks for yourself! It will keep you relaxed and happy when you glance over and see a picture of you and your best girlfriends having fun!
12. Lastly, be willing to learn! Being an intern is a very valuable opportunity that will prepare you with skills that will be valuable to you in the future! Ask questions, be open-minded, and keep a positive attitude!!