Rise to the Occasion: Make the Most of Your Internship

Dana Guterman
Updated: October 28, 2019

First of all, congrats! You put in the hours, did the applications, aced the interviews, and now you’re about to start your hard-earned summer internship. But wait—the work’s not over quite yet. Now, it’s time to prepare for what lies ahead so you can get things off on the right foot and make the most of your internship experience. Read on for our tricks and tips for internship success.

1. Mix and mingle. 

Ah, yes, networking. It really is as important as they say. In fact, studies show that somewhere between 70 and 85 percent (!) of people get their jobs through networking. So, focus on building those relationships from day one! Be friendly, be appreciative, and ask questions; talk to both your fellow interns and those C-Suite executives; invite your colleagues to lunch or out for a mid-day stroll; and strike up a conversation in the cafeteria and on the way to the bus.

2. Write it down. 

Come armed with a notebook and a pen, and you’ll be off to a strong start! You’ll be getting a lot of information in your first few days, so write it all down—you never know what will come in handy later on. To stay organized, remember that the to-do list is popular for a reason: it works. At the end of each day, write down your to-do’s for the rest of the week/month/internship. Then, the next day, cross each one off as you complete it, and write an updated list for tomorrow.

Additionally, this is a prime opportunity to build your resume and portfolio. One easy way to stay on top of it: keep track of your accomplishments by detailing them all in a single Word doc. Every time you complete a project, write down the nature of the work, the skills you utilized/grew, and the outcome. In the same location, save a copy of any materials you worked on. At the end of the internship, you’ll have a clear record of what you did, and it will be easy to update your resume accordingly.

3. Ditch the distractions.

If this is your first 9‒5 role, you might be wondering what to expect. For the most part, you’re going to be responsible for managing your own workload—and managing your own time. Schedule in short breaks after 60‒90 minutes. Leave the office every day to get some vitamin D and stretch your legs. Assuming it’s okay with your employer, bring your earbuds so that you can block out distracting conversations and noises. Stock your desk with healthy snacks. And if you can, arrive 15 minutes early to give yourself time to prepare for the day ahead.

4. Set expectations.

At school, you were given a hard deadline for each assignment. Now, you’ll often be asked how long a task will take you or when a deliverable can be expected. At first, allot more time than you need; if you think an assignment will take eight hours, estimate 10‒12. It’s better to under-promise and over-deliver, as they always say. If your supervisor does set your project schedule and you feel overwhelmed, talk to him/her/them to clarify priorities and work through the most important items first. If you have questions about anything, ask! Clear communication is the key to success.

5. Get the reference(s).

In addition to getting chummy with colleagues across the company (aka networking), your internship is a prime opportunity to start gathering references. References are key for future jobs, be they with your current employer or somewhere else entirely. After you’ve settled in at the company and gotten to know everyone, start drawing up a reference list; your supervisor is a natural choice, but other department heads, mentors, or HR staff can also be valuable resources.

Two-to-three weeks before your internship ends, check in with each person on your list and ask if they’d be willing to write you a letter of recommendation and serve as a future reference. If they decline or seem reticent, allow them to easily back out—there are plenty of other people on your list! Be sure to profusely thank everyone who agrees, remember to write them a thank you note once you’ve received their letter and contact information, and be sure to stay in touch. Once you have three solid references, you should be in good shape—but, really, you can never have too many people singing your praises! 

6. Take it to the next level.

For most companies, interns are future employees. If you want to be one of the 59 percent of interns offered a full-time job at the end of the summer (based on NACE’s 2018 Internship and Co-op Survey Report), there are a few things to keep in mind as you strive to differentiate yourself. Network up a storm (see those impressive stats above!). Focus on becoming essential by being reliable, flexible, and efficient. Take the initiative to stand out; if you have down time, ask for more work—or, better yet, suggest a project. Be proactive by letting HR, a recruiter, or your supervisor know that you’re interested in a full-time role (and if your department’s not hiring, you can find out who is). And one more thing: don’t forget to keep in touch once you return to school!

Your internship is a huge opportunity to learn new skills, grow your network, and lay a strong foundation for a successful career—but it’s also an entirely new experience, and everyone around you will recognize that. Follow these tips, stay engaged, be sure to ask questions, and you’ll be an internship rock star.