Five ways to get the most out of an internship

a path bordered by trees

I’ve had a lot of internships. Well, five, to be exact. Three were okay, one was a failure, and one succeeded beyond my wildest hopes. I have also supervised my share of eager young interns. Someday, in another post, I’ll bring out the details. For now I’ll stick to what I learned from my five ventures as an intern and the umpteen number of interns I have managed.

1 – Know what your boss, and the organization, is getting out of your internship.

Why is your organization taking on interns? Do they just need low-cost labor? Are they hoping to develop people who could become employees? Do they need a specific skill set for a short-term period? Keep in mind that your immediate supervisor and the organization may have different ideas about the internship.

Knowing what you organization and boss want from you will help you meet their needs, and become the quickest-learning most essential intern the place has ever seen. More importantly, it will help you set reasonable expectations for what you can learn from the internship experience.

2 – Know what you want.

Why did you pick this internship? Are you trying to learn about a specific job or the industry in general? Are you hoping this will lead to a job in the industry or this organization? What skills are you hoping to acquire by doing this? What do you want to do next in your career?

Always know what you want to get out of your internship. You will be given choices about what tasks to take on and projects to get involved with. If you know what you want from your internship, you can make choices that get you what you need. If you don’t know what you want, you will waste your time and probably also that of your organization. An aimless internship is of little value to you, and an aimless intern is of little value to them.

3 – Communicate

Organizations know that interns have needs. Interns are underpaid or unsalaried, which means they need to be happy and engaged in their work to be useful. If you can make it clear to your supervisor what you want from the internship, most supervisors will do their best to help you get it.

As soon as you start your internship, ask your boss for a half hour of her time. Sit down and find out what she wants from you, and let her know what you want from the internship. I was always grateful when my interns did that with me. It helped me decide what work they would be best at, and what work they would enjoy the most. Sure, your boss should ask you, but he might be too busy to think of it. So make sure he knows what you want from your internship. No one can help you if they don’t know what you need.

4- Connect

Meeting people is a goal of your internship, a goal that is as important as anything else you are doing. Make as many connections as possible. Get to know everyone in your office. Get to know everyone in your industry, if you can. Any time you get the chance to go to a meeting, go. If your internship doesn’t give you business cards (and most will, if you ask) then have student business cards made yourself.

Be useful and be memorable. Meeting people is worthless if they don’t remember you, and remember you well. You want people to think of you as the brilliant and helpful intern. You want people to hope they can work with you again. If your colleagues remember you like that, they will go out of their way to send you job vacancies, get you interviews, and get you hired.

5 – Stay in touch

Your old cubicle-mate can’t send you that hot tip about your dream job if she doesn’t know where you are. Keep in touch after you have left the internship. Stop by the office once in a while. Absence makes the heart go fonder and a surprising number of former colleagues will greet you with hugs. At the very least, send the occasional email. Your former bosses will be happy to hear about how you’re using the skills you gained with them.