Want Better Internships? Create Your Own “Intern Learning Plan”

From the Archives: Employers are already hiring for Fall internships – it’s time to start researching your next (or your first) internship! To get much more out of your experience, don’t settle – “co-manage You”. Read on to learn how to build your own internship, within your internship.

As I’ve mentioned in some of my other blog posts, I’m a big proponent of “building your own internship.” That means not accepting the stereo-typical intern role of Go-fer or “coffee and copies.” Those days are long gone… or at least they should be!

In any internship, you have an opportunity to break out of the typical intern role… to at least some degree mold your internship into what you want it to be and get what you want out of the experience.

One of the best ways to do this is to create an “Intern Learning Plan”.

When you read the word “Plan”, don’t think of homework, or some ultra-complicated process involving spreadsheets and a calendar. This is actually quite simple, and involves just deciding what you want learn during the internship – and then mapping out the steps you will take to get there.

Step 1: You’ve Accepted the Internship – Time to Research

Congratulations! You’ve been hired for an exciting internship (through YouTern, of course), and you start next week. It’s time to build your learning plan. Start by researching your new company and the industry:

  • Become familiar with the company’s products and major customers
  • Review some of the competitors’ websites, and identify strengths and weaknesses
  • Reduce your learning curve by reading industry-related blogs

By doing this research before you start, you’ll spend less time learning the lay-of-the-land – and more time learning.

Step 2: Set Learning Goals – What do You Want to Accomplish?

It doesn’t matter that you don’t yet know the day-to-day responsibilities of your internship. You know enough about the position from the description to which you applied, and from what you learned in your interviews.

In setting goals, develop some ideas on tasks you want to accomplish, or directions to take. For example, if you’ll be working with the CEO decide that you’re going to learn some upper-level management skills and form some ideas on how you’ll manage in the future. Perhaps the internship will involve making presentations to partners. What career skills will you have the opportunity to develop in that role?

You are there to help the company, true.  But your internship is for your own development as well. Set your own goals!

Step 3: Present Your Ideas – Get Your Supervisor On Board

Early in your internship, perhaps even the first day, set a meeting with your supervisor and present your Intern Learning Plan. Review your goals and how they fit with the company’s vision for the internship.

By obtaining your supervisor’s buy-in, you’ll help them more effectively guide you in the direction you want to go – and you’ll be setting a precedent for proactive behavior in the process.

Step 4: Review – Are You Meeting Milestones?

Set periodic dates, once per week perhaps, to review your progress and determine if you’re on track with your learning plan. Are you accomplishing what you set out to do from the start of your internship? If not… why not, and what further steps can you take?

It is incredibly important not to wait for one single review at the end of your internship!

These reviews of your learning plan will enable you to proactively track your progress, and, if necessary, make adjustments.

Even with a well-laid out Intern Leaning Plan, it’s important to be flexible. Your supervisor has the ultimate say in the direction of your internship. However, by showing that you have plans and expectations, you’ll not only impress your supervisor – you’ll also have some influence in managing what you accomplish and learn.

And make sure not to include coffee, copies and Go-fer work in the plan!

About the Author: Dave Ellis, is an original member of the YouTern team and instrumental to its success… in fact, he’s so awesome there wouldn’t be a YouTern without him (and he might have written this bio himself). In his spare time, Dave volunteers, rescuing and rehabilitating sea lions and baby elephant seals. Follow Dave on Twitter!

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