Internships are becoming a requirement in a lot of job fields and academic programs nowadays in order to move onto entry positions. Whether you’re working in an office or shadowing someone on the job, internships are a great way to gain professional experience and gain a little insight into a field that might interest you. As a rising senior in college, I’ve had 2 internship experiences so far, and here’s my top-ten list of things you’ll learn during and after you complete an internship.
1. How to Work as a Team
Many internships, particularly office ones, can have multiple people working on a project at once. It’s the harsh truth that no one wants to hear: group projects never end. Much like in school, everyone on the team will be assigned different parts to complete to ultimately create a final product, whatever that may be. DO. YOUR. PART. ‘Nuff said. Working with other people at your internship will help you enhance your people and professionalism skills, and when you see the finished project you’ll be able to tell how important it was for everyone to come together and combine their skill sets.
2. Communication Skills
Communication is the key to happy internships. I cannot stress enough how important clear, concise, and quick communication has been in all of my internship and job experiences. Between meetings, emails, instant messaging, note-taking, and documenting, an internship will whip your communication skills into place. A good communication channel ensures that projects get completed on time and and concerns or comments are brought up. It also makes sure that everyone is doing their part and receiving feedback.
3. You’re Going to Make Mistakes
Mistakes will happen, whether they’re minor or major. You might mess up big time. Remember is that everyone, even the big bosses make mistakes sometimes and the most important thing is that you understand what you did, why you did it wrong, and how to do it correctly in the future. Internships are a learning experience and interns tend to get more leeway in mistake-making, but remember to always bring up if you think you may have done something wrong, especially if it could affect the outcome of a project. As always, in case of emergency, don’t cry in front of your boss—this will only make things worse. Which brings us to…
4. How to Take Constructive Criticism
Because you’re going to make mistakes and how to fix them, you’re also liable to receiving constructive criticism about your work. By nature, we don’t like to be criticized. Performance evaluations are scary. Ultimately, remember that your boss is not picking our your flaws for the purpose of beating up your ego. Your boss merely wants the company to operate as smoothly as possible, and telling you how you can do better will improve the quality of your work. Try not to take anything personal and remain calm!
5. There’s a Hierarchy—And You’re at the Bottom
Some internships are amazing, but regardless of the company, interns are still at the bottom of the food chain. You might be asked to do some really tedious work and you might now have much of a voice, but remember that everyone else started just like you did, and promotions take time, dedication, and experience.
6. You’re Still More Important Than You Think
Even if you’re still at the bottom of the career ladder, this doesn’t mean the company doesn’t need you! If you stay with an internship for awhile, you gain networking, mentors, and experience. Some companies may even hire you once you’re out of school because you already know so much about the company policies. When you’re an intern, it can sometimes be easy to get the sense that you don’t really matter. Here’s a real-life example: one time the head boss walked into my office to ask me a question, and while my brain registered that he was speaking, I didn’t even respond because I assumed I wasn’t important enough to be getting asked questions about a major project. (I did snap out of it and apologized for spacing out then answer his question though!) Even if you’re not managing projects yet, interns still play a critical role in getting things done.
7. The 9-5 Life is What You Make of It
Not that all internships are 9-5, but because a large portion of them are, I’ll discuss what you can learn from this. Working 9-5 Monday-Friday can make you feel a little bit like you’ve sold your soul to corporate America, but it doesn’t have to be that way.Set aside some time each morning to do something that’ll relax you before and after work each day (although it’s understandable if you’re like me and not a morning person). Another good tip is to get up and take a walk if you’re ever feeling like you’ve been sitting at a desk too long and start going insane. Last, be sure to make the most of casual Fridays and weekends!
8. How to Look the Part
Leave the jeans and tank tops at home, because it’s time to get professional. What you’ll be wearing every day usually depends on the company dress code policy, but in a professional setting, if you have to question whether or not something is work appropriate it’s probably better to leave it at home. For guys, this might mean a nice shirt (no tank tops) or button up, a tie, and khakis or dress pants. (For really fancy internships, perhaps even a jacket.) For girls, this might mean shirts that do not show your shoulders, skirts that hit below or right above the knee, and in some cases, closed-toe shoes, pantyhose, or blazers. Dress codes are a part of looking the part as a young professional, and dress codes in internships will prepare you to dress well in the real world.
9. How to Write the Part
Professionalism is not limited to dress or in-person interactions. Nowadays, online and email communication plays a large part in most companies. Because of this, you will learn how to interact with others formally and what sort of language is expected of you on the job. For example, a formal email includes an opener addressed to the person or people you are corresponding with. The body text should not contain any “text talk” (e.x. abbreviations, numbers instead of words, lowercase i’s), and should be more formal than conversational in tone. Last, your closer should be short and to the point, and you might even have a professional signature for your work emails that includes your company name and contact information. Aside from business emails, it’s important to remember to address your superiors professionally, even if you are friends outside of work.
10. You Will Move Onto Bigger Things
Internships can be great and you can get really comfortable in the setting that you’re in, but don’t let this distract you from the world of opportunity that’s waiting for you after graduation. Sometimes, you also might find yourself getting a little down about your internship because of that “bottom of the food chain” feeling. This is just the beginning though, so take your newfound professional skills and aim big, and good luck finding and rocking an internship!