Having an internship can be a great opportunity to launch your professional career if you know how to make the most of it. You can either get stuck doing database entry all semester, or you can learn real skills and be a part of the team.
Here are some tips for anyone looking to maximize their internship:
1. Dress for Success
You do not need to wear brand new designer clothes to look professional. A quick trip to a local thrift store is a great option for those of us who do not have tons of money to spend on clothes. The most important part is to actively think about the message your clothes are sending. Girls, please avoid wearing mini-skirts and low-cut blouses. This is not the message you want to send to your co-workers. If you want to be respected at work, dress like you are at work and not a dance club.
2. Show Initiative
I know way too many interns who get stuck entering data. Do yourself a favor, don't let this happen to you. When I got to the Leadership Institute this summer, my supervisor told me that what I would get out of my internship was up to me. I had the choice to either be a part of the team or to sit on the sidelines. I chose to engage with my supervisor and create projects that addressed needs we saw within our department. At the end of the internship, I was able to walk away with practical skills and an experience I could be proud of. You get to define your internship. You can talk to your supervisor and create projects that highlight your passions and skills, or you can sit around all semester doing menial tasks.
3. Get Out of the House
Five years from now you won't remember all those nights you stayed at home. However, you will remember the contacts you made and the events you went to. Networking is a skill like any other. It takes a lifetime to perfect it. If you don't have a lot of experience networking, I recommend that you read Dig Your Well Before You are Thirsty: The Only Networking Book You'll Ever Need. As rule #22 of Morton Blackwell's Laws of The Public Policy says, "Never miss a political meeting if you think there is the slightest chance you'll wish you'd been there."
4. People Are Always Watching You
In today's digital world, everything you do is on display. Don't do anything that you would be embarrassed to see printed in the paper tomorrow. I know this seems unfair, but this is a really easy way for you stand out in our generation. When you apply for a job, you don't want your potential employer to find pictures of you wasted last Friday night, especially if you are under 21. Your reputation is the most important thing you have. Rule #11 of Morton Blackwell's Laws of The Public Policy offers us some wisdom here, "In politics, you have your word and your friends; go back on either and you're dead."
5. Remember to Follow-Up
You can talk to everyone in the room at an event; but at the end of the day if you forget to follow-up with them, you haven't gained anything. When you get someone's business card, write where you met them and what you talked about on the back. Send them a follow-up e-mail within 48 hours of meeting them and start building a lasting relationship. Remember, "it's not what you know but who you know that makes the difference."
Working as an intern can be a valuable asset to you and develop you professionally, or it can be a boring “go-fer” job. The choice is up to you!