Being an intern (see also: summer student or co-op student) might make you feel like the low man on the totem pole, but there are many valuable lessons to be learned at the bottom. Throughout my college and university careers, I’ve interned at numerous organizations and corporations – each one much different than the last. I owe a lot of what I know now and where I am now to my early exposure to the workforce.
If I could sum up my entire internship experience with 10 key take-aways, these would be it:
- Adjust your attitude.
Whether the internship is paid or unpaid, whether you’re planning strategies or getting coffee, it’s all about attitude. Exuding a positive, energetic, team-player attitude will get you very far. Technical skills can be built and fostered, character can’t.
- Dress for success.
In most cases, an intern’s goal is to receive a job offer at the end of the internship. So, it may not be completely cliché to “dress for the job you want, and not the job you have”. Come to work looking professional and polished, and it will not only translate in your performance, but it will show your employer that you care about your position, and that always reflects well on the organization.
- Develop relationships.
Starting out in a new company or organization is an excellent way to expand your network, develop valuable relationships, and create key contacts. Whether it’s your manager, a client, or a colleague in another department, never underestimate the power of networking and what it can do for you in the future.
- Be a sponge.
Internships, co-op placements, and student positions were all put in place to help you learn. Nobody expects you to know everything, but be eager, ready, and willing to learn. Remember: the answer is never “I don’t know”, it’s “I’ll find out.”
- Seek out opportunities.
During your internship, seek out as many different, unique opportunities as possible in order to strengthen and enhance your experience. Opportunities can come in the form of trainings and seminars to wellness classes and an informal meeting.
- Ask for help.
This is one of my most recently learned lessons — don’t be afraid of being seen as incompetent or incapable if you need help on a task or project. Recognize that there are very seasoned professionals amongst you that are more than willing to lend a helping hand and provide feedback and assistance.
- Embrace challenges.
There are no such things as problems, only challenges. Every day will bring forth a new challenge, whether big or small. To be resilient in difficult situations, develop a solution-oriented mindset and maintain razor-sharp focus on the end goal or objective.
- Shift your perspective.
No matter where you work, it is inevitable that you will encounter difficult personalities and disagreements. Shift your perspective and perception in order to humanize others. This gives you the advantage of viewing the entire situation from a completely unbiased, nonjudgmental vantage point.
- Strive for balance.
Work is important, but so is life. Achieve a work-life balance by following a routine that also incorporates sleep, exercise, stress management, and a healthy diet into your daily 9-to-5. A stressed out, burnt out intern is as good as no intern at all.
- Give it time.
One of my favourite things to practice is the art of simply giving things time. When feeling conflicted or pressured, try going for a walk around the office and not responding to emails until the next day. Have an important decision to make? Give it some thought and sleep on it. Everything takes time, and time heals everything.
If you’re lucky enough to land an internship anywhere, remember that it’s an amazing opportunity for you to begin your career — take complete advantage of the opportunities available and fast track your path to success!
– Sozanny Chea
Executive Office Administration ‘12