The Ultimate Guide to Internship (and Career) Success

thethinkerThis past Monday night’s #InternPro Twitter chat focused on what an early careerist should do to increase the likelihood of success in their first internship. Naturally, a good deal of the advice dispensed was to be expected: “Do your research”, “dress for success”, “work hard”, “follow your passion”, “be a sponge”…

Yet in reading the chat’s stream again and leveraging some of my Tweets, I wrote down some thoughts about what interns should ask themselves before, during, and after their first internship (and frankly, anyone should ask before any new job)…

Before Your Internship

Do you know who ultimately will determine whether your internship is successful?

You will.

To the extent you honestly look introspectively and truly understand the following will dictate how comfortable you are going into the internship:

  • Your attitude: Have you been told you have one? Is it good or bad?
  • How well have you gotten along with people who don’t know?
  • How well have you meshed with your dorm-mates or room-mates?
  • Are you known to be a consensus builder – or a back stabber?
  • How quickly do you get angry?
  • How quickly do you give in to others?
  • How well do you take criticism – from both people you know and people you don’t?
  • How often do you tell the truth?
  • How often do you lie?
  • How professional is your appearance?
  • How well do you listen?
  • How much you talk?

How well you know these things about yourself before you step into a business environment will substantially point you to either the Entrance or the Exit.

During the Internship

Your first “real job” is often like your first love – which, if you’re like most people, you jumped into with reckless abandon and didn’t pay much attention to how the world around you reacted to your actions. With both love and jobs, getting off on the wrong foot can lead to many years of pain and suffering.

Here are some key pain/no pain points once you’re on the job:

  • Do you ask for more responsibility after you’ve completed what you were told to do?
  • How many “good” questions do you ask? (Questions you could not answer on your own, even after you had done some research.)
  • How many “bad” questions do you ask?
  • How often do you smile?
  • Do you gossip at work?
  • Do you keep the others’ secrets?
  • How often do you say please and thank you?
  • How often do you remember your co-workers’ birthdays?
  • How often you congratulate fellow employees about their accomplishments (awards, speaking engagements, articles published)?
  • Do you cultivate feedback on your performance and use this information to improve?

Work is an active environment very unlike school. Schedules often flex, budgets change, people come and go and impact how we prioritize. And the effect of people’s personalities can be more forceful than what you’ve experienced in life so far.

Quite often, your first foray into the professional ranks is where you actually see how your emotional intelligence can impact your career.

Experience, Analyze, Learn, Repeat.

After the Internship

yellowbrickroadThink thank you notes after interviews are important? Even more important to the first-time careerist is what you do after your internship is over:

  • How frequently will you engage your former fellow interns?
  • Will you create a job search buddy system and share your leads?
  • How frequently will you engage the employees you worked with, after you leave?
  • Will you ask them if they’ve been contacted by companies looking to recruit them?
  • How often will you continue to congratulate former co-workers on their accomplishments – even if they’re at new jobs at other companies?
  • Will you follow on LinkedIn the company where you interned and comment on articles they post or are mentioned in?

Your first internship is like your first home – it might not be your dream home, but home is where you are now. Once you buy your first one and begin to build equity, you can get yourself into larger homes in different places. However, just as your starter home requires some TLC to protect your investment, so does your career.

At the end of each week , ask yourself these questions. Then create a professional development plan. Put in the work. And watch your investment grow.





Steve_Levy_AuthorAbout the Author: Steve Levy is focused on recruiting, career counseling, social media, and organizational development consulting – and has been referred to as “the recruiting industry’s answer to Tom Peters”. Steve is an incurable blogger ( and among many others) and social media participant who is passionate about veteran issues. Steve has been a COI with Armed Forces recruiting for many years, a Navy volunteer “fitness consultant”; his family has a storied history of service to our country.

Steve is a Tau Beta Pi engineer from the University of Vermont (there is no such thing as a former Engineer, Marine or Jesuit) with his graduate degree in Industrial / Organizational Psychology from Hofstra University. Follow Steve on Twitter!



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