How to Make the Most of Your Internship

An internship is an incredibly valuable opportunity: it allows you to dip your toes into a given field, hone important skills, network, and learn the ins and outs of the professional world. Making the most of your experience means setting yourself apart from the crowd in a positive way; the last thing you want is to become a nameless face in a sea of other interns. Here are seven strategies that will help you maximize the benefits of any internship and allow you to help yourself stand out in the best way possible.

Do your homework
Sure, as an intern you won’t be expected to know everything about the company right away. But doing some research ahead of time will not only help you complete your work and better understand assignments, it shows your superiors that you’re genuinely interested in your role. Supervisors recognize when an intern is only in it to add experience to a resume, so learn all you can about the company. What are its strengths and weaknesses? Which companies are competition? Which areas have seen new developments recently? Find a relaxed moment to ask your supervisor any clarifying questions you might have, but only if it will truly benefit the work you do. (They can spot brown-nosers, too!)

Set goals
Go into your first day of work with clear goals in mind. What skills do you want to learn? Is there a particular person you’d like to work with? What aspects of the business do you want to understand better? You may have to work your way up to achieving certain goals, but establishing what they are and keeping them in the forefront of your mind will help you seek and identify opportunities to accomplish everything you hope to.

Give 100%, 100% of the time
When you’re not getting paid for a job, it can be tough to make yourself commit to giving your all — but you should! Complete your work carefully the first time, then double-check it before turning it in. Don’t lose focus by checking your social media accounts, chatting with other interns, or stretching busy work to fill your day. Remember: what seems trivial to you can have a major impact on your supervisor, or even on the company as a whole, so treat every task with care.

Find a mentor
A mentor is an excellent way to accelerate your own learning at the company while creating a meaningful bond with a knowledgeable coworker. Choose someone who’s been at the company for a few years and remembers what it’s like to be in your position. It should be someone you feel confident going to with questions, but bear in mind that just because someone is nice doesn’t mean they’ll be the best mentor. Don’t shy away from a potential adviser simply because they’re rough around the edges — the best mentors are often tough critics, but will ultimately push you to perform consistently better.

Be the ‘best’ intern
Of course you should never do anything to deliberately make your fellow interns look bad — being a team player is a crucial part of any workplace — but you can make sure you always look good. Arrive to work early, dress appropriately, take notes at meetings, and offer to take on extra work when you’re able. And never underestimate the power of a positive attitude; don’t just offer to work late, be sincerely happy to stay and help. You never know who will appreciate your can-do attitude and seek you out for a special project in the future.

Be receptive to feedback and criticism
It’s frustrating to hear that a document you spent hours on isn’t up to par, but taking criticism constructively is a crucial lesson no matter the field you’re in. Keep in mind that your supervisors have been in the game much longer than you and know what they’re talking about. Take their comments in stride, even if it’s heated, and commit to applying it to future assignments. If you aren’t receiving any kind of feedback, find a moment to approach your supervisor and ask for some. They might want a day or two to really put thought into it, but they’ll likely appreciate that you care enough to ensure you’re doing your job well.

Show appreciation
No matter how tough things get, remember: there are plenty of applicants who would gladly take your position! Show your appreciation every chance you get, whether it’s after a performance review (good or bad), a productive meeting, or being asked to complete a more complicated assignment. The company is taking a bit of a gamble by letting someone with little to no experience help out, so give your sincere thanks when an opportunity presents itself.

Whether or not your internship is all that you dreamed it would be, you’ll walk away with valuable experience, insight, and networking contacts. Implement these strategies each and every day to make the most of your experience — you just might walk away from it with a job offer!

Nothing ever comes to one, that is worth having, except as a result of hard work.

— Booker T. Washington