Summer internships, and summer jobs in general, are in short supply. They are also over in a flash. Regardless of what you are doing for the summer, starting with a mindset that you will get the most out of that summer internship or job is critical to leveraging the opportunity. If you are thinking, “Wow! I got the job, I can’t wait to see who of the opposite sex will be working there too. I hope they’re hot!“, your hormones are creating a barrier to you having your priorities straight. That isn’t what we mean when we say “get the most”.
The best internships are win-win relationships where both parties get everything they want: At the end of an ideal summer, you’ll be able to say yes when anyone asks if you have experience and you’ll also be able to speak clearly about the value of the experience (what you learned, technical skills, soft skills you developed, etc.). And your employer will feel good about the investment they made (time and money) to hire you, train you to do the work, mentor you and pay you.
- Build credits first before you ask for what you want. There’s no need to be intimidated by your internship “boss”, this experience belongs to both of you. If you’re being tucked away in a corner to sort paper clips and you aren’t getting the exposure and experience you need, first, gain the trust and confidence in your manager by doing good work. Get the menial tasks done as quickly as you can (but with quality) and then ask for other projects you can help with. Asking to work on “projects” is key here. Task completion is the test for more responsibility. Let other people know you. Introduce yourself to other managers in other departments. Do not complain to anyone about anything – be optimistic when interacting with others.
- Recognize that “learning” in the workplace doesn’t happen the way it does in school. In the real world, lessons are in the air all around you, and they don’t announce themselves when they show up. Don’t wait for your boss to tell you to pick up a note pad and write things down. Take responsibility for keeping your eyes and ears open, asking your own questions, and making the most of the answers that come your way.
- Talk to people. During your internship, you’ll be surrounded by professional working adults who have been immersed in this business for years, and these people have plenty to teach you. But they may not open up unless you make the first move. Eliminate the thought that you can’t ask for something. Your youth and inexperience give you a certain freedom in this regard that won’t last forever. Ask all the stupid questions you want. Now’s the time.
- Make yourself valuable. Even if you aren’t a licensed practitioner and you aren’t able to take on high levels of real responsibility, try to make your presence a welcome sight. Keep your attitude cheerful, keep your hands busy, keep your eyes up—not on the floor or your desk—and keep your mind open. There’s nothing more appealing than an enthusiastic intern who helps older employees remember why they first got into this business.
- Develop a thanking habit. Showing appreciation is a habit that will serve you well throughout your professional life. The more generous you are with your thanks, the better. Keep them sincere.
The most important thing to remember as you launch into your internship can be summarized in one word: respect. Show respect for your employer, your coworkers, the work you complete on the job, your company’s customers, and yourself. The more respect you give, the more respect you’ll get, and with respect comes opportunity. Walk away from this experience with everything you need to get your career off to a strong start after you graduate.