The key to success at your internship is to incorporate all of the research and diligence you put into finding that perfect position in the day to day. Too often, people in all parts of the career ladder think that landing the job is the hardest part, and that keeping it is secondary. For an intern, this could not be further from the truth.
In many cases, where you are in a pool of 25-30 interns or part of the program, your supervisor and co-workers may not have been a part of the hiring process, or might not remember you if they were. While it’s great to say that you worked at ABC Financial for the summer, it’s even better to have a stellar reference or recommendation letter to show future employers. This means that impressing the boss (along with everyone else) should be paramount during your internship.
This may not seem easy, as many internships consist largely of copying, collating and filing. How can you make your mark with such mundane tasks?
Here are five tips to help you stand out, for all the right reasons:
Do the Work
This may seem like a simple requests, but for a student with their first "real job" or even a professional changing careers, a new office with new people can offer all kinds of stimulation, and staying on task (especially boring ones) can be anything but simple. An easy solution is to make sure that you keep a very short list of everything that you have to get done in a specific day. If you have a supervisor who keeps close tabs on you, and farms out assignment after assignment with strict timelines, your work is done for you. All you have to do is make sure that you get everything done in the allotted time and you’ll earn a reputation as dependable and hard-working.
Find Work Where There is None
However, not all internship supervisors are created equal, and there will be many that take a much more "hands-off" approach to handling you and your work. There might be days when she says "just find something to do" or "try to keep busy until I have time for you." This is no license to take a long lunch or talk to your girlfriend on IM all day. You’ll have the responsibility of coming up with tasks on your own. One thing that can always be done is a good cleaning, whether it’s the file room or the lunch table. In busy offices, a good cleaning is often low on anyone’s priority list, and performing this seemingly menial task will go far, and will impress people beyond your immediate supervisor.
Talk the Talk
No matter what people say, everyone in your office is important, and everyone has the authority to report on you in some way. Beginning with your first day, be sure to be friendly and cordial with everyone you meet, and go out of your way to introduce yourself to the people you don’t know. This probably means having to answer the "What’s your major?" question 1,000 times, but it will go a long way for you to have a working relationship with your office or department. It will also come in handy when you are out of things to do, as you can go visit your co-workers while asking them if they have any tasks that they need help with.
Again, this may seem intuitive. However, offices of any type will its fair share of complainers and dissidents. As an intern, it is your responsibility to stay as neutral as possible, and stay far away from office politics. Beyond that, staying positive about your work and reminding yourself that work experience is work experience (even when you’re standing on line at the post office). This doesn’t mean that you should always defend your boss to naysayers or be hyperactively happy – this will likely elicit more negative responses than positive ones. It means trying to keep a positive attitude even under negative circumstances, and not giving in to the gossip.
There will come a time during your internship where you’ll want to break away from the pack. Whether it’s striking out amongst your intern group, or even standing out against interns past, the key to making the big boss notice you is to take on more than the others. This requires knowing when to volunteer yourself, or offer up extra information. This is also where laying a good foundation with co-workers come in handy. If you are friendly with everyone from your supervisor the mailroom, people will start to know things about you" your goals, hobbies, and other areas of interest. These mundane details will benefit you if and when a special project comes up. If you mentioned that you grew up in Kansas, and your publishing internship is looking for someone to do some Kansas-specific research, who will they call?
Of course, it is important to keep personal things personal. While everyone will ask if you have a girlfriend, a simple yes or no is a sufficient answer. No one wants to know about problems between the two of you, what your first date was like, or how she likes her eggs. Sharing these personal details will make you stand out for all the wrong reasons.
Ultimately, managing a successful internship has to do with communication and follow-through. Every office has different culture and rules, but if you remain aware of the communication between you and your co-workers, and follow-through on all of your tasks, you will be the star intern you were meant to be.