Career Conversations Series: Making the most of your internship

Are you about to embark on your first internship? Or perhaps maybe you’re just an early bird trying to do their research on internships. Maybe you’re just trying to find some guidance for your current one. If you fit into any of these categories, then this post is for you.

Pursuing an internship

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Taking on an internship allows you to gain professional work experience and enhance your resume. Whether you are required to do an internship as part of your graduation requirements or you’re looking into one for your own purposes, it is important that you find the right placement for your needs. Start by making a list of your interests and goals, then look into agencies that may be able to fulfill your needs. It’s easier to determine where you should pursue an internship when you know what you want to gain from the internship. This will not only help you determine possible internship sites, but will also help when you are trying to land the internship, as you may be required to do an interview and justify why you wish to work there. It is especially important to make sure you know your goals when pursing an internship somewhere competitive, that way you can be sure your interests align with the agency’s and you can clearly state your intentions during your interview.

Persistence

Are you considering pursuing an internship at an agency that is very competitive or are you just having trouble getting responses? One way you can make yourself stand out from other candidates and show how serious you are about your intentions to work with their agency is by being persistent. Following up on interviews with a thank you and calling to ask about the status of your resume and other application material are ways in which you can show you’re serious about pursuing an internship placement at that agency. If you have professors or someone else reaching out on your behalf, ask to be included in the communication if possible or follow-up on their recommendation by calling in and expressing your interest. By being persistent in your pursuit, you show your willingness to work with an agency and this could make you standout above other candidates who may have advantages over you in other ways, such as by having prior internship experience while you have none.

Keeping an open mind

It is important to keep an open mind while pursuing an internship placement. You may be rejected from your first choice agency or multiple agencies. This can happen for many reasons, such as if they are not accepting interns at the time or the internship is competitive. If you’re pursuing an internship as an undergraduate student, your opportunities may be limited, especially if you’re interested in careers in professional fields such as counseling and medical fields. However, you may have the option to pursue related work or do an internship that is more exploratory than it is hands-on. My first internship was with a school psychologist, and typically they only accepted graduate students because they were able to do testing and counseling. Since I was an undergraduate student I could only observe during testing and counseling; however, I was able to do related work such as researching treatment options, updating student files, and participate in family meetings. Due to my own assertiveness and the fact that I kept an open mind, I was also able to explore more aspects of working in a school by offering to work with special education students and aid in research to help the administration make policy decisions. Keeping an open mind is one of the key traits to making the best out of your internship, as it allows you to be open to new experiences and expand your horizons. In my case, it made me realize I wanted to teach.

Starting point

As you prepare to undergo an internship or actually begin one, it is important to keep in mind that an internship is a starting point for your future career. As with any job, when you first start out you will be doing small tasks and may feel as though your work is not making an impact. Those of you who may have been limited in your choices due to your training, location, or some other reason may feel that you have had to settle for something that is not exactly what you want to do. However, keep in mind that related work is still very valuable and this internship could potentially be your doorway into a fulfilling career, whether it is the career you were originally considering or one you decided to pursue based on your internship experiences. Make the best out of the internship and look at it as a learning experience. Even if you’re unhappy with it at first or become unhappy over time, there is a lot to learn from any type of work you do. However, keeping an open mind and trying to approach the internship with a positive outlook will definitely make it feel more worthwhile, even if it was not your first choice.

Consider a second internship

Having internship experience can set set you apart from other job applicants who have not had internship experience, especially when your credentials are otherwise the same. If you enjoyed your first internship placement and have to do another one, consider continuing with the agency if possible. Staying at an internship placement for a long period of time shows your interest and dedication to agency, which could potentially lead to a job offer if you’ve displayed the skills they are looking for and there is an open position that you’re a good candidate for.

If you are not required to do another internship, but not in the position to go straight into the workforce yet, you it may be beneficial to gain more internship experience. Completing another internship, during your vacations, another semester, or perhaps between undergrad and graduate school can help you obtain more related work experience. This of course will help boost your resume, give you more to talk about during an interview, and give you a chance to network some more.

How to navigate your relationship with your supervisor

The kind of relationship you have with your supervisor can impact your internship immensely. Your opportunities, training, and ability to network will all be affected by your relationship with your supervisor or whoever it is who oversees your work. First it is important to determine if you will have a supervisor that you are working with directly or if they are just the person who takes care of paperwork and agency concerns. If you are in the second position and you don’t work directly with your supervisor, determine who it is you will be working with on a regular basis.

Once you have determined the nature of your supervisor’s role, then you can start to develop a relationship with them. First, meet with your supervisor (or whomever you will be working with on a regular basis) to introduce yourself and determine your internship goals. Be clear about your expectations and ask them about the expectations they have for you. Being upfront early on can help avoid confusion and putting you in a situation where you are not accomplishing your goals and you’re not meeting your supervisor’s expectations. Discuss things such as how your supervisor expects you to dress, the hours you will work, what sort of tasks you want to accomplish, and anything else that you feel may help you understand the nature of your internship.

After you have laid down the foundation of your internship, you can start developing a relationship with your supervisor by showing interest in their work and offering to do small tasks that take away from their work, such as mail sorting when you are not working on a project. You never know when doing something such as offering to make phone calls or show your supervisor how to use their e-mail will lead to them allowing you to take on more responsibilities. It may seem funny to think, “Okay so if I help my supervisor set up his e-mail, maybe he’ll let me sit in on client meetings.” However, showing that you’re willing to help your supervisor with their work may help them see your skills and build rapport, thus increasing your chances of getting more substantial work. During one of my previous internships, I often would help the staff with technology issues, which led to them asking me to create presentations and digitally format files. However, keep in mind that if all you are doing is small tasks like mail sorting or running for coffee, you should discuss your internship goals once more and determine how you can take on more responsibility.

Another way to develop your relationship with your supervisor is to show interest in them as a person. Although the goal of a professional relationship is not to become best friends, it is important that you get along and are able to feel comfortable with them when you’re spending a large amount of time with them. You may be sitting in a room with them for seven hours every other day or you may have to commute with them to another location. During this time not everything that will be discussed will be work related, especially when you’re both working on a task like stuffing envelopes or making a two hour commute! Getting to know your supervisor’s educational background, asking about their family, and their life during instances such as this can help you establish rapport with your supervisor. It can also help you get to understand more about the lifestyle associated with their job, which can be especially useful if you are considering the same line of work! You may have read that an ER nurse has a hectic home life, but once you hear about it from an actual person you may get a better view of what it is really like. This can allow you to ask yourself if this is a lifestyle you can handle. You may also find yourself able to network more effectively, as you can ask them about contacts from their own experiences. Finally, you never know, maybe getting to know about your supervisor’s background will motivate you to do something you never would have considered otherwise. Hearing about your supervisor’s work abroad may inspire you to take your own career internationally!

Making the most of your internship

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There are a plethora of articles out there about making the most out of your internship. Most of them boil down to what we have been talking about all along: pursuing an internship that fits your career interests, developing internship goals to help you navigate the course of your internship, building rapport with your supervisor, networking, taking on responsibilities, and keeping an open mind. These are all great points, however to do this effectively you must be good at communication, responsible, and assertive. What does this mean? It means that you have to identify your weaknesses and be willing to work on them.

Communication

Are you good at listening to others and clearly explaining your position? Can you walk away from a meeting and be sure that you’ve asked all the questions you had? Are you able to feel confident that you have clearly outlined what you’ll be doing on a project? Can you determine whether it is appropriate to send something via email or use face to face communication? These are the kinds of things you have to consider to be able to determine if you are an effective communicator. If you answered “no” to any of these questions, spend some time learning about effective communication by talking to your supervisors, professors, reading articles, and practicing the skills and suggestions they give you.

Being responsible

In order to succeed in your internship and your future career, being responsible is a key trait to develop. Being responsible is more than just doing what is expected of you and meeting deadlines. It also includes components such as: showing up on time, owning your mistakes, communicating with your supervisor when problems arise, and knowing the proper policies and procedures of your internship agency. By becoming a responsible intern, you can demonstrate your work ethic and skills, which may lead to your supervisor allowing you to take on more substantial work. Being a responsible intern also helps you keep you from having to deal with disciplinary actions due to breaking an agency’s policy or unethical behavior.

Being assertive

Finally, as you embark on your internship it is important that you understand an internship is different from a class. Your internship supervisor may be expect you to come up with tasks on your own, especially if you are at an agency that typically does not take interns and does not know what to do with one. Understanding your skills and having internship goals can be extremely helpful in this case, as you can brainstorm tasks that you may be able to do. Sometimes there are tasks that supervisors overlook because they would not have the time to do the tasks themselves, such as creating a resource binder or an informational video. These are perfect opportunities for an intern, especially for one that is an agency that does not normally take interns. Being assertive and able to market your skills will definitely make your internship run much more smoothly than waiting for tasks to come to you will.

Take home message

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Having internship experience can enhance your education and career training, as well as open the door for networking opportunities and may even lead to a job. It is important that you take your internship seriously and pursue one that can help you develop the skills you’ll need to succeed in the workforce. Making the most out of your internship will fall on your shoulders. Creating internship goals, keeping an open mind, and developing a relationship with your supervisor are all key components of being a successful intern. Being an effective communicator, responsible, and assertive are also vital traits to develop to enhance your internship and future career.

 

The Career Conversations Series is researched and written by Brittany Souliske, a senior in the Psychology program who will be graduating in May of 2016.

About the author

Brittany

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