It was the summer before my senior year of college. Exams had been taken, boxes packed, roommates hugged farewell. As the sunshine reflected off the hazy surface of the Jersey Turnpike on my drive home, only one vision danced in my head.
Like so many other to-be seniors, I was breathing a sigh of relief that I’d secured the coveted summer internship (in my intended field, no less!). Three years later, I’m working full-time at the same organization, under one of the managers who supervised my work that summer. Let me be the first to tell you—internships matter! Here are a few thoughts about making ’em count.
**SKC Tips and Tricks: The Internship**
Dress the part. It may be super cliché to say “Dress for the job you want, not the job you have”—but it’s cliché because it’s true. Whether you’re interning at a Fortune 500 company or a start-up media agency, you should always look put together and professional. Don’t wear jeans every day, even if they are allowed in your workplace. You can still be “business casual” in a summer sundress (with a modest neckline!) and cardigan, or khakis and a collared shirt for guys. If you’re hoping to get a full-time offer from this business, your supervisors want to know that you’re serious about your potential—and the you they see walking in the door every day as the most basic indication of that.
Ask questions. Lots of them. And by this I don’t mean stop thinking for yourself, because your employer’s also looking to see that you can be self-sufficient and productive. But the original intention of an internship (before they became the college student’s version of The Hunger Games for job placement) was as an apprenticeship, a way to learn more about a particular industry. Find out about the duties performed by the different managers with whom you work. Ask how they got involved in their chosen careers. Ask how the company you’re working with got started—curiosity, in this case, demonstrates interest and passion.
Play nice with others. Depending on the size of the organization where you’re working, there could be a robust internship program with hundreds of other college students, or only a handful of peers you see on a daily basis. While you all have the same goal—eventual employment—in mind, it won’t work in anyone’s favor to alienate one another or to sabotage a fellow intern’s chances. If anything, your cordial and good-natured interactions with your co-interns speaks to your potential to be an employee who’s a team player, one who thinks about what’s best for the product or service their organization is striving to put forth.
Be open-minded. You might be dying to break into PR, but could only find an internship in sales. Or maybe you thought you’d be helping do research for law cases, but you’re actually alphabetizing files. Over and over. All day. There’s no denying that some internship duties are more interesting, even better, than others, but it’s essential to keep that chin up. The department you thought would be unspeakably boring could turn out to be a foot in the door to your dream career. That manager whose invoices you filed could think of your name first when a prime position opens in eight months. No matter what you’re doing, try to seek the learning experience in it. And if all else fails, remember that you could be writing a term paper instead.
Stay in touch. Make sure to write your supervisor(s) a note of appreciation at the end of your internship—a note, not an e-mail. I know we’re the Facebook generation, but we all do still remember how to write three sentences (even if it’s not in cursive), and I haven’t talked to a single upper-level manager who doesn’t appreciate the time it takes to handwrite that parting thank you. But don’t let your correspondence stop there—make sure you secure the contact information of the people you worked with, and take the time to follow up with them a few months later. Let them know how your studies are going, wish them a happy holiday, or inquire about a particular project that was just starting up at the end of your internship. You don’t have to be weekly pen pals, but bring yourself back to the front of their minds once in a while.
Tara Powers is an intern-turned-employee who fondly reminisces about the summer she was paid $10 a day to work 40-hour weeks. In addition to the job in publishing her Villanova education secured her, she spends the salary she earns on the projects for her blog, Chip Chip Hooray.