Top Tips to Maximise the ROI on Your Internship

My advice for young people is, study what you love and intern in what you want to do. And I think it’s okay to pivot as many times as you need to.
Eva Chen, Director, Instagram

Secured yourself an internship? Firstly, congratulations!

Internships are great ways to dip a toe into a potential career, as well as learn really valuable “real world” work skills, meet people who are working in your preferred industry and potentially get yourself a full-time job.

On the flip side, it can also be daunting, especially if it’s your first work experience in a new industry, but embrace it and dive in with gusto, as the overall experience is definitely worth it!

To make the most of your internship, we’ve put together some tips to help you take advantage of this great opportunity to learn, impress and perhaps get that all-important job offer.  

Define your end goal

Make a list of the key skills that you would like to learn from your internship and use that to set specific goals with your employer. By doing so, you’ll gain structure and meaning from your internship while also avoiding unnecessary floundering.

Here are some examples of goals and expectations you may want to discuss with your internship employer, right up front, so that you both know how to get the best from it.

  • The specific skills you want to work on
  • The specific areas or projects your employer needs help with
  • How you’ll seek guidance or ask questions when needed
  • Where to find resources and answers on your own when possible
  • How your employer will deliver feedback on your performance
  • How to communicate about delays or adjust timelines on an assignment if needed

Do your homework before you start

It’s important that, from day one, you show your internship employer just how well you take initiative. Read as much as you can about them, not just on their website but on news sites, in journals and in articles, to see what they’re doing and their interesting projects.

The night before your start date refresh your memory and do some additional research on the organisation’s history and culture.

By being prepared, you will feel more confident going into the internship. Start your first day with a general understanding of the industry, its buzzwords, the company and any recent press, and your boss (LinkedIn). This will make you sound more knowledgeable and confident and set you up for success.

Dress for success

You must have heard the expression ‘dress for the job you want and not the job you have’. Find out from your direct report what the company dress code is and go above and beyond, if you can.

In general, dressing and acting professionally not only gives a good impression and makes it clear that you’re willing to make an effort, but it can also be psychologically beneficial. Research has shown that the way people dress affects not only the way others see them, but also how they see themselves, including how they think and feel about their own abilities and the work they’re doing. “Dressing for success” really does work!

Be relentlessly punctual

Make ‘being punctual’ your mantra. Show up on time (or earlier) than the start time, arrive for meetings before they begin, and complete tasks by their deadlines. 

During graduate internships, it’s important to adjust the college lifestyle and behaviour to fit a professional regime. If you are out drinking on a Tuesday night before work at 8 a.m. and get in late, someone is going to be able to recognize that, and it may hurt you in the end. Managers consistently list punctuality as a critical success factor.

As an intern, you are both a guest in a new environment and a fellow colleague on whom others must rely — make sure that you respect your coworkers and their timelines by being punctual.

Identify a mentor

A mentor is someone who can guide you through your internship and be a bridge to professional networks and learning opportunities.

In some internship settings, you may be assigned a mentor or you may identify one yourself. In the case of the later, you’ll want to select someone who you admire and has the skills and traits you want to develop. If they accept, you can set up regular, short meetings with them to catch up and ask questions. Note: Being a mentor does require their time and effort, so if they decline, back out gracefully. You may consider asking if they have recommendations for another mentor.

Complete each task with excellence

Whether an assignment is mundane or exotic, pursue it with relentless drive and a determination to exceed. If you’re asked to make coffee, make the best coffee your colleagues have ever had. If you’re asked to make an Excel spreadsheet, over-invest your time and effort in assuring it’s right, aesthetically appealing, and thorough.

Even if the project seems small or unimportant, do not give in to the temptation to complete it with anything less than your best, and don’t decline a project just because it doesn’t interest you. Repeated, enthusiastic, and excellent delivery of assigned tasks is the building block upon which everything else in your internship will rest.

Ask questions – relevant ones

You don’t have to fear looking young and new — you are young and new. Take advantage of the fact that no one is trying to compete with you; rather, they’re trying to teach you. Absorb all that you can. Step outside your comfort zone. This shows that you’re willing to learn and have a genuine interest in the job and company.

The hallmark of an intellectually curious, diligent colleague is the quality of his or her questions. As a rule of thumb, make sure you ask one or more authentic questions in every meeting you attend, where relevant. Following this advice will hone your ability to ask questions that lead to real insight and will ingrain in you the essential habit of intellectual curiosity.

Take initiative

Use any spare time to take on new and important work, assignments others don’t want, or projects that are needed but not yet clearly defined. Deliver what no one is expecting — or what no one else is willing to do — and you’ll not only be appreciated but remembered.

Sure, employers will be impressed if you’re eager to help — but a word of caution, don’t be too much of an eager beaver and put your hand up for everything. A few jobs done well is better than twice as many done badly, or not finished.

Ask for feedback

As an intern, you may not have a formal review until the end of the internship — so it’s important to ask for feedback on a regular basis. This shows the employer you’re taking initiative and willing to make the changes necessary in order to succeed.

This feedback will also start uncovering your strengths and what you need to improve on.

Network

Internships typically usually last only a few months, so forming broad, deep relationships within your team and throughout the organisation should be a priority. The more colleagues know you and what your capable of, the more support you will have once it’s time to turn your internship into a full-time job. Invite colleagues to lunch. Ask them questions. Offer to help where you can. Observe the great relationship-builders in your organisation and learn from them.

By networking, you’ll not only make yourself more memorable to those around you but also create a professional network of contacts to reach out to when you’re ready to find your next job.

Keep a track of your achievements

Over the course of your internship, make a habit of keeping track of specific facts and figures about your performance

You’ll want to keep track of the details of your accomplishments, especially any metrics and numbers that can make your success tangible. Whether daily or weekly, these notes will be especially useful when you are updating your resume after your internship or asking your employer to be a professional reference.

Stay in touch

Not every internship will result in a job offer right away. If the company and work you’ve done are of interest to you, it’s a good practice to stay in touch so that when an opportunity does open up, you will be top of mind.

When your internship is over, send goodbye emails thanking co-workers for their time and ask things like, “Can I reach out to you if I see any opportunities down the line?” And, “If you’re open to it, I’d love to grab coffee in a few months to catch up.”

Dedicate yourself to applying what you learned

Take the skills you have acquired and apply them to the career you are working to build. Remember everything from the coffee runs to the powerful words of executives at quarterly meetings. Keep those lessons in your mind, and keep moving in the direction of your dreams.

Conclusion

Internships, done right, are hard work but they pay off is enormous. Doing only what’s expected of you isn’t enough to be noticed. You need to go above and beyond, from arriving on time to doing exemplary work, and make the most of your time in the organisation.

Best of luck in your internship and beyond. When the experience is over, don’t forget to update your JobGetter Profile with your latest accomplishments.

Your turn…

Have you been an intern? If yes, I would to love to know what your experience was like and the key takeaways from it.

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