Career Corner: So, You’ve Got an Internship – Now What?

Securing your first internship often comes with mixed feelings of excitement and apprehension. It’s your first step into the professional world, and your first opportunity to really get a hands-on look into your field. But the prospect of entering an unfamiliar professional workplace, coupled with the pressure of self-expectations and newfound responsibilities, can be especially daunting. With the right mindset and adequate preparation, this new opportunity, like any new experience, can be managed and transformed from an uncertain adventure into a rewarding success.

In order to capitalize as much as possible from your experience, you will want to have a game plan. Going into your first internship blind can result in a missed opportunity. It’s vital to your professional success to soak up as much as possible from your internships in order to equip yourself with everything an employer looks for in the ideal candidate. First internships are particularly important because they, if you are astute enough, will set you on a trajectory for career success. Here a few general ideas that will serve as primers for your first (or second or third) internship.

Before you arrive on your first day, you’ll want to approach your internship as a precious learning opportunity. Practically speaking, this means many things, but one way to ensure that you soak up as much as you can is to be proactive. This means not sitting around waiting for an assignment to come your way. If you find yourself with nothing to do, seek out your supervisor and ask if there’s anything you can do. He or she will appreciate your inquiry and will recognize you as somebody who wants to contribute and learn. This will also make you stand out, especially in a large office full of other interns.

Taking on extra work will enhance your experience by teaching you things that you might not have learned while sitting at your desk playing Candy Crush. And who knows, maybe the extra assignment will introduce you to someone that will open a professional door that otherwise wouldn’t have been open to you. While you don’t want to take on more than you can handle, doing the bare minimum will only be an opportunity wasted.

Internships are also an exceptional place to network. I’m sure you’ve been told ad nauseam that you need to network to be successful in your professional career, so if you don’t know where to start, look no further. Having a network of professional contacts is key to navigating your way through the professional landscape. Think of your supervisors as well as your fellow interns as potential contacts.

Beyond just striking-up conversations with your peers, attend formal and informal events outside your office. It’s also important to connect with your office team on social media sites like LinkedIn. This will help you stay connected even after your internship ends. Making professional contacts at your first internship is particularly important because your newly-found network could result in landing your first real job offer. Aside from gaining useful experience, creating a real professional network is probably the most important thing you’ll want to take away from your first internship. Something you should strive to do is to get formal letters of recommendations from one of your supervisors to go along with your resume and cover letter. Nothing beats a solid recommendation from a supervisor in the field that you’re interested in.

Another way to get the most out of your internship is to study the documents that you’ll be handling, and your broader work environment. Depending on the internship, you’ll often find yourself supporting full-time staff by performing administrative tasks. You can gain a lot from reading the things that you’re handling on a daily basis. Be sure to get permission before you do this! Employers aren’t going to want you snooping around confidential legal documents, for example. But if you’re granted permission, be sure to take advantage of this opportunity. In these documents, you will get a sense of the kind of projects that the full-time staff is working on every day, which will give you an understanding of what to expect when you’re on the job.

Observing your co-workers roles and relationships in the company is helpful as well. Having an intimate grasp on what an office does in the career you’re pursuing will impress a hiring manager later down the road. Reading workplace documents will deepen your knowledge of your field and present you with a plethora of ideas that you can take advantage of when performing that duty yourself. For example, if you are an aspiring writer, reading the editor’s notes on a writing piece will teach you what to look out for when writing your own pieces.

Remember that your first internship is only the beginning. It’s the beginning of a long, but rewarding professional career that will challenge you and enrich your life. In times past, an internship was the exception, not the rule. Nowadays, it appears the reverse is true. While your parents and grandparents may have spent their summers working at the town grocery or swimming pool to pay their tuition bills, this time is now typically reserved for internships that will give you valuable experience and skills that are more directly related to today’s competitive job market.

Part-time work remains an important component of any well-rounded resume, but it is ultimately seen as supplementary to the kinds of skills and hands-on experience internships provide. The best way to get the most out of your internship is by absorbing as much as possible, being proactive and networking effectively. The more you put in, the greater your reward will be. Your first internship is a thrilling time in your life because it will set you on your professional journey. Use this time to explore your passions and to learn something new while you lay the groundwork for your future.

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