Often I think back to an internship experience I had last summer. I remember the projects I worked on, the day-to-day processes I learned and improved, and why I felt summer internships were a good experience for me, and for my career.
How was I able to turn a low-key internship into one of the most influential experiences of my young career?
My success as an intern boils down to six factors everyone can use to maximize their summer internship experience; whether you’re working for mighty Google or the smallest non-profit, no matter how big or small it is:
1. Show Up
This may seem obvious. Apparently, it isn’t – and even your fellow interns notice. You don’t just want to be the intern that gets noticed – you want to be the intern that the boss never has to worry about. No bells and whistles here, this is simply the foundation that allows for a sturdy internship experience.
Task: Be 15 minutes early to work every day. Be 5 minutes early to every meeting.
2. Be Reliable
Reliability is the most important piece to your internship success. It starts with showing up, but dives far deeper than just being present, and breathing. Are you:
- Meeting deadlines?
- Being thorough in your projects?
- Creating meaningful work?
- Asking for more projects?
- Contributing consistently?
What it all boils down to: your employer, with a task in her hand that must be assigned, is going to look directly at you, and ask themselves:
“Can I trust this person to get it done.”
If that answer comes back a ‘no’, she will move down the line to somebody who gets a ‘yes’. Period.
Task: Seek out new projects. Find a need within the company and bring it to your boss’s attention. All while making sure you can answer ‘yes’ to all the bullet points above – and get the ‘yes’ answer for every potential project assignment.
3. Establish Goals (and then let them be known)
“Setting goals is the first step in turning the invisible into the visible”
– Tony Robbins
At the end of the summer, what do you want to take away from your internship experience?
This question is asked far too seldom, yet it’s the most important piece to your entire summer internship experience. An internship is meant to be mutually-beneficial – that is, while you’re working for the company, the company must work for you. Let your boss know your goals. A good employer will help get you to where you want to be. As an example, your goals may look something like this:
- Become more employable by doing X, Y and Z
- Strengthen my network by adding 10 meaningful connections
- Learn how to successfully run a marketing campaign from top to bottom
Task: Create five goals and milestones for yourself; quantify wherever possible. Without them, you will become less inspired to excel as an intern.
4. Find a Mentor
No matter how low you are on the totem pole, there is always somebody who wants to help.
The value of mentorship cannot be measured by the dollars you make. A mentor brings years of experience to the table. He will guide you to where you want to go, and help remove barriers along the way. If the mentor sees potential in you, he will become as invested in your career as you are – and that’s special.
Task: Reach out to three potential mentors within your workspace. Take them to lunch, or even just coffee. In the professional world, that’s how long-term relationships start.
5. Develop A Side Skill
In the midst of a stressful internship, it’s hard to imagine focusing your attention on anything but the tasks at hand. Guess what? That will lead you to burnout and frustration.
Don’t get complacent in your role. Identify a skill or interest other than the one your job description requires. Take the bonus time you have available during the summer – and turn the learning of that skill into something that excites you. For me, it was teaching myself WordPress. Now, I run a blog dedicated to ranting about sports. Simply put, exploring an outside interest relieves the normal stresses that arise during the internship process.
Task: Identify a skill or personal interest you’re curious about. And no matter how crazy the internship gets,invest 30 minutes a day exploring interests outside work.
6. Play With a Chip on your Shoulder
At some level, we’re all competitors. Being an athlete, I refuse to sit and watch somebody do a job that I’m fully capable of doing myself – and I could do better. It’s important not to overstep your boundaries in the workplace; you don’t want to create enemies. But, it is always very important to play like you’re challenging the person in front of you for their spot on the roster. In the workplace, you either move up or you move out. Never settle with average. Never lose your sense of competition, even as an intern. Compete.
Task: Envision yourself with a higher role in the company. How could the process be improved? What could you do better? Soon enough, you’ll be called upon for your thoughts… have them ready.
This was my approach to my first ever summer internship.
About the Author: Mack Watts is heading into his junior year at The Ohio State University. He’s works in strategic partnerships and business development at YouTern. In his spare time, Mack is a big sports fan and enjoys frequenting the nearest Chipotle. In addition to blogging for TheSavvyIntern, Mack also manages and writes for 6 Rings. Follow Mack on Twitter and connect with him on LinkedIn!