Tips to Find and Make the Most of an Internship

Discover an internship that fits your needs and use it as a springboard to a bright career.

An internship can help you to get your foot in the door of a department, company, industry, or country, and gain practical work experience that you can list on your resume and discuss in your next job interview.  Finding an internship that is tailored to your specific needs takes planning and research.  So how do you set yourself up for success, optimize your experience, and maximize your results?  Consider these strategies to find and make the most of your internship.

  1. Start with the end in mind.
    As early as possible, develop goals and objectives for your internship and beyond, or at the very minimum have a general idea of what you want to do.  Discuss these ideas with your faculty adviser or internship coordinator.  Note that some internships are paid, while some are unpaid.  Some internships last only a few months, while others last for a year or more.  Some internships offer college credit. The clearer your vision, the easier it will be for others to help you.  If you are securing your own internship, a clear vision will help you to identify a good match between yourself and the internship organization.

  2. Do your homework.
    Prepare your resume.  Also create a generic cover letter and thank you note that can later be customized to each company to which you apply.  Consult with your faculty adviser or internship coordinator for recommendations on which organizations to approach.  You can also check online internship listings or speak with alumni.  Brush up on currents events, and familiarize yourself with news of the organization and its industry.  Read the internship reports of former interns, if available.  When preparing for your interview, go beyond just visiting a company’s website.  Be able to explain how your skills and experiences would meet the specific needs of the internship organization.

  3. Communicate and follow-through. 
    If an internship coordinator is assisting you, realize that the internship search process is interactive and requires your proactive participation and follow-through. Despite your heavy academic course load, make your internship search a priority. It is important that you play your part in helping the arrangements move forward since internships can take weeks and sometimes even months to arrange.  Check your email and respond to requests from your adviser or internship coordinator in a timely manner.  Likewise, politely check-in with your internship coordinator on occasion for status updates and to see if anything is needed from you to facilitate the arrangements.

  4. Be flexible.
    Clear goals and objectives are important, but an open mind will ensure that great opportunities won’t pass you by.  Realize that such opportunities may be a departure from your original plans and may present a new twist on your earlier vision. Understand that the internship coordinator will be assessing your skills, interests and possibly temperament to ensure a good fit with the internship organization. Also, sometimes circumstances beyond anyone’s control might alter – even at the last-minute -- the internship arrangement.  Flexibility on your part will help you to navigate these challenges.  Some of the most rewarding internship experiences come to those who embrace the unexpected.

  5. Be positive.
    The internship search process requires planning, patience, and finesse to find the organization that best fits your objectives.  While is it is nice to get paid for your internship, be open to non-paying internships that have the potential to provide you with a better experience, better network, or job offer.  Keep an open mind and a positive attitude throughout the process.

  6. Make a good first impression. 
    Demonstrate professionalism.  Being conscientious during the internship search process will carry over to the internship itself.  Whether you have a paid or unpaid internship, treat the internship as you would any type of employment. Ask about the work hours and dress code.  Observe proper protocol and etiquette.  Understand the expectations of your internship supervisor.  Give him or her lots of reasons to offer you employment or at the very least give you a glowing recommendation at the conclusion of your internship.  Cultivate a legacy that will positively impact future interns from your program or school.

  7. Be willing to “pay your dues.”
    During your internship, be realistic about the projects you are assigned, given the limited timeframe of the internship as well as your skills and experience.  For example, if you have experience in a certain industry, you will probably be able to work on projects that are more complex than a person without such experience.  Be open to all learning opportunities. Even mundane activities such as answering phones and making photo copies will teach you something the organization’s corporate culture.  Attitude is everything.

  8. Sustain the good first impression you’ve worked hard to create.
    Use your time efficiently.  Avoid the rumor mill.  Do more than what is expected of you.  Display energy and enthusiasm for the job.  Take initiative without overstepping your authority.  Practice humility and be respectful to everyone at the organization. Promptly discuss any concerns with your internship supervisor and/or your internship coordinator.

  9. Document your experiences.
    During an internship, you’ll apply your classroom learning to real-world situations, and you may have opportunities to work on key projects that set you apart from others when you’re out hunting for a job.  With your supervisor’s permission, collect tangible examples of your work to save in your portfolio. Take photos of events or keep a journal of your accomplishments. Note that some internship organizations will ask you to sign a confidentiality agreement before your begin your internship.  If this is the case, ask your supervisor for clarification about what is acceptable to add to your portfolio.  As an alternative, you might ask your supervisor for a letter of recommendation.

  10. Complete your internship on good terms.
    At the end of an internship, some interns will have proven themselves so valuable that they may be offered full-time employment.  Others make valuable contacts that lead to job offers elsewhere.  Even if you’ve had a challenging experience, don’t burn bridges; you never know what might negatively affect you in the future.  Instead, depart gratefully and graciously when your internship ends.