A summer internship is a great opportunity to enhance your resume and begin learning the skills you’ll need to enter the workforce.
But for many students, jumping from classroom learning into the daily challenges on the job can oftentimes be challenging.
Not to mention, you also want to impress your supervisor, build a strong professional network, and possibly even land a full-time job at the company.
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We spoke to Rhea Wong, the executive director of Breakthrough New York for some tips that’ll help you get the most out of the internship experience:
Be a proactive problem solver
While interns might feel uneasy about asking questions at first, “It’s better to ask if you don’t know, than to assume and do the wrong thing,” says Wong.
But there is one caveat: Don’t ask questions that you can find the answer to yourself, she says.
Rather than asking, “How do I make an Excel spreadsheet?” — something you could easily figure out by doing a quick Google search — interns should be asking more specific questions, like “How would you like to have this Excel sheet presented?”
In other words, they should make a conscious effort to be proactive problem solvers before seeking out the help of staffers. “If you say, ‘I searched online and tried to find the answer, but I couldn’t.’ I think they would be much more willing to help since it shows that you’ve made some attempt to try to figure it out on your own,” says Wong.
Interns have a tendency to stay in their comfort zone and mingle with fellow interns, says Wong, “but the truth is, those interns aren’t really going to be able to help them advance their career.”
Instead, they should aim for the more strategic approach: Forming relationships with other staffers. After all, “An internship is a great opportunity to build a professional network, so they should be taking advantage of that,” says Wong.
So take the initiative to make those connections. “Frankly, staffers are busy. Generally, they’re not going to say no to a request to sit down and have coffee or lunch with you, but they might not go out of their way to make that happen,” she says. In that sense, “It’s really on the intern to build that bridge.”
Go above and beyond
“A lot of times, interns will be told what to do, but it’s the exceptional intern that goes above and beyond and anticipates what might be needed,” says Wong. Perhaps you’re interning at a real-estate firm and you’ve finished your work for the day. You could start researching other buildings in the area. “Not only is that a great way to learn, but it’s also a great way to market yourself as somebody who has a can-do attitude,” she says.
Plus, the more you’re able to add value to the company, the more responsibility you’ll get — and the more likely you are to be considered for a job later down the line, she says.
Follow the office culture
Being mindful and adaptable to the culture of the workplace is crucial, says Wong.
If you’re in an office where everyone is wearing jeans, dressing in a suit and tie — as professional as it may seem — is probably not the best choice. “If your wardrobe is not in line with the culture of the organization, you’re just going to stick out like a sore thumb,” explains Wong.
Same goes for communication. “If you’re in an office where people communicate via email more than they do in person, then you should adjust yourself accordingly.” In general, your tone in person, email, and over the phone should always mirror that of the culture around you, she says.