My Top 5 Tips for Making the Most of Your Internship

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I can’t believe I have less than a week and a half left of my six month internship. It’s flown by faster than any other half-year in my life, despite the dragging and tumultuous Boston winter, and it’s bittersweet to watch it go. On one hand, I’ve really enjoyed getting to know the people who I work with and I like working full-time significantly more than being in classes. On the other, I have never felt the desire to take a long vacation more in my life. Having extracurricular activities, the weight of being an RA, friends, and a full-time job all at once is a lot to handle. The fact that I’ll be returning to the heat of Kentucky/Texas/Florida is also incredibly encouraging—no one told me it doesn’t actually get warm in Boston until July. What is this place? (More on that later—ha!)

Anyway, as a first step in reflecting for myself, I’ve compiled a list of five tips for a college (or high school) student doing an internship. I know a lot of people are just now starting summer internships, and while six months isn’t really comparable to 11 weeks, I think these tidbits I learned could apply to a variety of gigs.

1. Keep a log of all of your tasks.

Maybe other people are a lot better at remembering things that I am, but if you asked me what I did two weeks ago at work, I would probably have no idea—much less what I did six months ago. The first week of my internship, I created a spreadsheet that made it easy to log my hours. I was splitting time between two departments, so its original purpose was to ensure I was splitting my time appropriately, but it ended up being incredibly useful to me. Writing everything down may seem like a pain at times, especially when you’ve got a lot going on. But next week when I finish up, I will be able to easily remember what all I’ve accomplished to compile 3-4 beautiful and detailed bullet points for my resume. Perhaps more importantly, sifting through the cells will give me time to reflect on my six months so I am more prepared for my next career endeavor.

2. You don’t have to hate your job or industry to know it’s not right for you (and it’s okay to let go).

When I started this internship, I was absolutely, 100%, without a doubt positive of what I wanted to do as a career. I had my next internship and first jobs planned out after college and had already begun researching the exact steps it would take to get there. I am a planner by nature. Fortunately, I have also fine-tuned my ability to let things go when plans change. Or when plans disappear.

For the first time in my life, I don’t have any idea what I want to do when I grow up. Numerous paths have crossed my mind, but I’ve decided that I can leave my planning for other aspects of my life and just trust that I have the skills I need to get a good job that I enjoy after graduation. I find that frequently, my most valuable experiences have come spontaneously by being opportunistic, and career searching for me requires trying new things, learning about myself through them, and choosing future opportunities based on the outcome.

I know that the field I’m in for this internship probably isn’t for me after all, but not a day has gone by where I dreaded going into work or was unhappy with the tasks I was given. The shoe just doesn’t quite fit yet. Figuring that out is what internships are for.

3. Be opportunistic.

At my past two jobs, I have received more praise for materials I developed using fancy software than I have for any data I’ve analyzed in Excel, materials I’ve written, or projects I’ve taken on. As an intern, you’ll typically find someone in any workplace that is stronger in those areas than you are, but you’ll rarely (unless you work in graphic design or something similar) find people in most industries who know how to use the Adobe Creative Suite or Prezi. I learned the ins and outs of InDesign by spending hours a week designing my high school yearbook, and picked up Prezi for a project in high school. I’m no design whiz and I’m not a computer scientist, but knowing something is better than knowing nothing! Never assume your technical skills won’t be useful because you’re not in a field that directly needs them, and jump at the opportunity to use them.

4. Ask for feedback.

I hate evaluations. I find nothing more uncomfortable than sitting alone with a supervisor to hear formal feedback about my performance, no matter how positive their review. Give me advice or correct me in the process and I’m good to go, but I get sweaty hands and shaky limbs when I know that a review is coming. However, my school requires internship employers to do performance evaluations, and I’ve learned that the best preventative measure for my heebie-jeebies is to ask how I’m doing along the way. It keeps everything out in the open so the final review comes with no surprises, and it’s impressive to employers that you’re interested. I wasn’t as good at this as I would like to have been—still a work in progress, so perhaps I shouldn’t be giving the advice here. But really. It helps. I think.

5. Listen.

Remember what I said earlier about my entire life career plans going down the drain? It happened because I listened to my coworkers talk about their experiences in that field. Their reviews were mixed—I heard positives, negatives, and hilarious stories, and all of it confirmed that the field is not really where I wanted to go. I didn’t have to ask a million questions nor do informational interviews (though I recommend trying to do some of that as well, if you can get past feeling awkward about them). I just had to open my ears and observe and learn from the people around me who were experts in the field and had the experiences I would need to get in order to have their positions.

Do you agree? Disagree? Have suggestions of your own? Comment below! I would love to hear your input!

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My Top 5 Tips for Making the Most of Your Internship

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