An internship may be the most important aspect of the education process.
Internships offer students numerous opportunities they can’t gain from a classroom. Internships provide an insight into the professional working environment. They teach the skills necessary to become more marketable upon graduating from college. Internships let students gain real-world experience to help determine their career path. They also create a source of income necessary to help offset the costs of education.
But as great as the benefits of internships are to the intern, the greatest benefits may be to the company.
At my company, we take part in the internship process with many young men and women every year. This process allows us to determine if they would be a good fit for our company as a long-term employee. We use this time to evaluate their work habits, interpersonal skills, and desire to learn. We find the benefits of a well-managed internship program significantly out-weigh any costs.
Every intern needs to recognize that an internship is basically a long-term interview. Interns are being observed and evaluated on a daily basis by individuals who will continually review and discuss performance.
Managing an internship well can be the starting point for a great career. But if an internship is not managed well, then it can be detrimental to a student’s future job opportunities. This is why it’s necessary that interns conduct themselves in the best possible manner during their internship. But how do you do that?
When people ask me how they can prepare for a successful internship, I always offer the following advice.
- Work hard: Demonstrating a strong work ethic is most important when aiming for a successful internship. This will be the number one factor in determining whether you get a full-time job, an excellent reference, or neither.
- Ask questions: Here’s the secret. Every employer understands that interns are not knowledgeable about the job requirements or every company expectation. Ask thoughtful questions and seek to learn the most you can during your internship.
- Put your phone down: Sitting at your desk and scanning your phone during work hours is not a good look. Be aware that people are watching. Every time you pick up your phone, for whatever reason, it’s likely others will assume you think social media is more important than your job.
- Write down everything: Take a pad and pen to every meeting you attend, and every time you meet with the boss. Take notes, even if you think you will remember. If for no other reason, it demonstrates you believe what is being said is important. Be wary about taking notes on your laptop or your phone.
- Seek exposure: Seek to understand the business, including relevant departments and other’s roles in those sectors. Show you have a desire to learn what the rest of the company does, not only the group you work within. Let others know you want to understand the company and how it operates.
- Respect the dress code: No matter where you work, or how casual it may be, there is always an understood level of dress. Adhere to that code, and if possible, go one notch above.
- Get to work 15 minutes early, and leave 15 minutes after the workday: Yes, you may be the first one in the office, and there may be days when you are the last to leave. But rest assured, people notice.
- Remember the reason you are here: You are here to learn, build skills, and then land a job after graduation. Keep the end goals in mind, and don’t do anything that would jeopardize future opportunities. Stay focused on the goal, and don’t become complacent within the workplace.
- Act Professional: Remember an internship is a job with adults. You are working with people who take their jobs very seriously, as they are important for financial security and career goals. Although you will go back to the college environment at the completion of your internship, you are not in the college environment during the internship. Separate yourself from the college lifestyle during your internship.
- Build your network: Internships are typically the first step in building professional networks and relationships. Don’t be shy about making the most of this opportunity. Create a professional network profile and connect with those you meet and work with during your internship. Introduce yourself to as many fellow employees as possible. Try to gain an opportunity to meet for lunch, coffee or any other situation. When you meet vendors, suppliers, and customers, add them to your network as well.
Make the most of your internship. Don’t let this opportunity slip away, and certainly don’t hurt yourself during the process. Treat your internship the same as you would any important task. Give your best effort. Be proactive in your behaviors. Stay focused on what matters.
By doing the above, you will find yourself becoming more valuable to the company. You will also become more valuable to the overall marketplace upon graduation.
Brian T. King is the founder and owner of multiple firms encompassing design, construction, real estate, and manufacturing, and currently president of the integrated Design-Build firm A M King. Brian shares his passion for mentoring young professionals, rising managers and entrepreneurs at speaking engagements around the country, on podcasts and via his blog.