Although there are many misconceptions and stereotypes about internships, your first internship is an experience that truly paves the path for your career.
And yet, whether you’re finishing your freshman year in college or getting ready to graduate, when you start your first internship you never really know what to expect.
Sure, you’re going to get a taste of the “real world” and learn how to become a professional. Yes, you’ll determine whether your career path is truly the right one for you. True, your first internship is your first opportunity to apply your knowledge gained in the classroom to real-world situation. Past those issues, though, internships are filled with “I wish I would have known that yesterday!” moments.
So, to help you get the most of out of your internship, here are six pieces of advice that I wish someone would have shared with me as I was getting ready for one of the best experiences of my college career:
1. Make Friends with your Supervisor
During your internship, your manager is more than just a boss or leader — he or she will serve as a mentor throughout your experience as an intern. Not only will your manager be there to teach you new skills, but also he or she will coach you during your internship.
Although you may feel intimated during the first few weeks of your internship, it’s important to remember your manager has your best interest in mind. Your manager wants to help you learn the tools you need to be successful and provide you with a positive learning experience.
Your relationship with your supervisor will be professional, but it’s okay to get to share stories about your interests outside of work in order to build a stronger relationship. This is a great way to find out common interests between you and your boss, and make your experience that much more enjoyable. When you can get along with your boss, you’ll be able to have more fun at work and feel more comfortable approaching him or her with questions.
2. Keep Your Space Organized from Day One
Maintaining a neat work space during your internship will boost your productivity as an intern. If you become disorganized and your desk is overflowing with clutter, it can definitely distract from your work.
Chances are, when you begin your internship, you’re going to have a small desk or cubicle, and it’ll seem impossible to keep it tidy. Your boss is going to load you with stacks of papers, binders, books, and projects that will consume your workplace. This is why it’s important to get a handle on your organization in the beginning so you don’t end your internship swimming in a sea of work and missing papers.
3. Don’t be Afraid of the Water Cooler
Meeting your new coworkers and the other interns can always be nerve-wracking, regardless of how outgoing you are. The first few days are going to be filled with endless introductions and name-memorizing.
Fitting in with the other interns and your coworkers can be overwhelming, but it’s the part of your internship that’s crucial to your experience. The break room (or water cooler) will be the place where a lot of your coworkers and the other interns will gather through out the work day to chat, catch up, and eat lunch together.
The water cooler gives you the opportunity to get to know the people you’re working with and begin building your relationships. Not only what, but this also serves a place for you to break away from your work and regroup before heading back to your projects. In fact, the water cooler is where you’ll experience much of your employer’s culture and learn how professionals interact with each other outside of the cubicle. Who knows, you might even develop some friendships that will extend beyond your internship, too!
4. Ask Questions!
One of the things young adults are afraid to do during their first internship is ask questions. Whether it’s the fear of asking too many questions or asking the wrong questions, interns often forget to speak up to their supervisors.
The purpose of your internship is to learn and grow as a young professional. If you don’t ask questions, you’re going to miss out on more learning opportunities and the chance to improve your skills. Plus, when you let your questions go unanswered, you could even make your learning experience harder on yourself. The last thing you want to do is make a mistake on an assignment that could have been prevented by speaking up for help or advice.
5. It’s Okay to be Wrong
Another thing many interns are afraid of is failure. In reality, failure is a huge element of your learning experience. One of the best ways to improve is to learn from your mistakes and take notes for the future.
You’ll probably get a number of things wrong during your internship, but it doesn’t mean you’re a failure as an intern. As long as you are making an effort to get the most important things right during your internship, you’ll still reach success.
6. Don’t Wait for Doors to Open
As an intern, not every opportunity will be handed over to you. It’s your responsibility to gain the experience you want to have by reaching out to your supervisors and coworkers.
For example, if there’s a specific skill you want to gain but haven’t had the opportunity to learn, speak up to your supervisor. More often than not, your supervisor can give you additional experience outside of your current obligations — but it’s up to you to speak up and voice your needs.
There are going to be endless opportunities beyond your assigned intern tasks to learn and grow during your internship. Whether you want to learn a new skill or seal the deal on a full-time position afterwards, you’ll have to make some of those opportunities happen on your own by taking initiative.
Preparing for your first internship is an exciting time. Hopefully some of this advice will help you feel ready for the first experience that will launch your career.
For this post, YouTern thanks our friends at Heatherhuhman.com!
About the Author: Heather R. Huhman is the Career & Recruiting Advisor for Cachinko. She is also the founder & president of Come Recommended, the author of Lies, Damned Lies & Internships: The Truth About Getting from Classroom to Cubicle (2011), #ENTRYLEVELtweet: Taking Your Career from Classroom to Cubicle (2010), and writes career and recruiting advice for numerous outlets.