12 tips for getting the most out of your summer internship

Francois Duhamel/Warner Bros. Pictures

If you were lucky enough to score a summer internship, chances are you are several weeks into your experience. Now is a great time to step back and evaluate how you are doing, and whether you are getting the most from your opportunity. Here are several tips to make sure you maximize your internship experience – for both you and your employer.

1. Be a learning sponge. Use your internship to expand your skills and knowledge. Have a game plan of two to three skills that you’d like to focus on during your internship and seek opportunities to improve those skills. Use this time to learn about your company and its industry.

2. Hone your professionalism. Observe the office culture and take cues from senior colleagues who are respected. Listen more than you talk, and don’t be afraid to speak up if you have an idea. Speak respectfully and in a way that demonstrates your desire to understand why the business does things a certain way. Learning how to navigate a professional setting is one of the most valuable experiences internships offer. Whatever you do, don’t make the mistake these interns did.

3. Connect with your co-workers and network like crazy. Turn a coffee break into a learning break. Ask different people to lunch. If you eat lunch at your desk, you are wasting valuable networking opportunities. Rather than being recognized for your work ethic, it’s more likely that you’ll be viewed as lacking critical people skills. (As you network with colleagues, do NOT engage in office gossip: kiss of death.)

4. Actively pursue and embrace feedback. Ask your boss how you are doing and if you are meeting her or his expectations. If your boss takes time to offer you guidance, listen carefully and be open to hearing what is being said. Repeat the feedback to ensure understanding. Then embrace the advice and work hard to improve. Being coachable is a highly desirable trait and can be a career game changer.

5. Bring your A game and a positive attitude. Every day. Volunteer to do more than you are assigned. Take on the tasks that no one else wants. Ask if there is a project you can tackle. Meet your deadlines and always deliver quality work. It is not your boss’s job to proofread or fact-check your work.

6. Ask questions. Keep a list of questions and figure out who might be able to help you answer them. Unsure what is expected, or unclear on how to finish an assignment? First, take initiative to figure it out. If you are still stuck, ask (in plenty of time to meet your deadline).

7. Treat your job, and your colleagues, with respect. An internship essentially is a summer-long job interview. It also is one of the best routes to a permanent job offer with 60% of summer internships leading to offers after college.

8. Use your internship to discover what you’re good at and enjoy doing. Learn what skills you need, but have not yet mastered, and work like crazy to improve them.

9. Be your own advocate, within reason. Stuck in a coffee-fetching, photocopying-only role; feeling under-utilized? Speak up and ask to take on more in addition to cheerfully fetching coffee and photocopying. Note what skills you have that you can leverage for the benefit of others. Your boss might be game for some social media reverse-mentoring if you’re a natural and he/she has never heard of, Snapchat or Periscope.

10. Take notes. Write down all the important things you’ve learned from your boss and others. Log your accomplishments and the new skills you’ve gained. Use these notes to update your resume before you head back to campus so you are ready for fall recruiting.

11. Plan for next summer. Ask what the process is if you are interested in working at the company after you graduate. Request a letter of recommendation (or two) from the people with whom you worked most closely while your work experience is still fresh in their minds. Connect with your co-workers on LinkedIn. It’s a lot less awkward than re-surfacing in seven months to ask to connect.

12. Express gratitude. Send handwritten thank you notes, not emails, to your boss, your closest co-workers, and anyone else who helped you during your internship. Personalize your thank you notes by mentioning something that person did for you or what you learned from them. A generic thank you is almost as bad as no thank you.

Follow these tips to get the most from your summer internship and the payback for your efforts just might be a coveted job offer upon (or before) graduation.

About Lisa

Chief Career Catalyst @C2C, former Fortune 500 businesswoman, dog lover, avid skier, mediocre tennis player, golfer, new SUPer, aspiring surfer, cyclist, yoga & exercise enthusiast, happy wife & home chef. I am a regular contributor to the Bangor Daily News, and have appeared on WCSH6 where I offer career advice for college students, recent graduates and young professionals.
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