Getting Ahead at Your Internship

Make it count toward the launch of your career

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So, you've made that big first step of landing an internship, maybe even at your dream company. These days, it's almost a prerequisite for a job, and it's certainly the best way for college students to gain relevant work experience and make themselves marketable to future employers. Plus, it gives you a great, low-commitment opportunity to figure out if you're truly interested in your chosen profession, with internships often just as important in finding out what you don't want to do as they are in reinforcing what you do want to do.

But once you have your foot in the door, how do you turn your internship from just another line on your resume into something that can actually jump-start the rest of your career?

When I interned the summer before my senior year of college, it was an eye-opening experience into the professional world. I was working at a prominent creative shop full of bright, talented New Yorkers, and finding my voice in a crowd of such strong personalities seemed daunting. However, by discovering ways to be useful, showing interest and enthusiasm on projects, and seeking mentorship, I was not only able to provide value to my colleagues, but I also added unbelievable value to my own experience.

With that in mind, I've compiled some tips and tricks to make the most of your internship.

First, it is important to excel at your internship by delivering top-quality work. This should really be left unsaid, but too often students treat their internships as a temporary diversion instead of an elongated job interview. This also means taking the opportunities given to you to learn and ask questions. By doing your research and asking smart questions, you'll more fully understand the big picture of what you are working on, while showing your superiors that you are engaged.

Want to get your work noticed? Take into account the "why" behind what you are being asked to do to gain a better frame of reference. Remember that every situation is an opportunity to learn, and learning will help you do your job better next time. And most importantly: figure out all the ways to make your boss' life easier, whether it's offering to reschedule a weekly status meeting or printing out slides for an upcoming presentation.

Beyond just doing a good job, it's important to build strong relationships throughout the company. These relationships could help gain you future employment, a recommendation or job tip, or they could just be people you might want to work with down the road in your career. Here is some advice for relationship building:

  • Manners and promptness typically make a good first impression.
  • Choose a role model at the company, an individual who can help you pick up cues on what the office norms are.
  • Make sure to adjust your behavior based on each situation. For instance, your conversation in a team status meeting will be different than a lunch with fellow interns (though even in a more relaxed setting, your conversation and behavior must always be appropriate!).
  • Be a team player on projects by making sure your voice is heard, but never at the expense of anyone else's ideas.
  • Make friends everywhere. Whether it is the receptionist, fellow interns, or your superiors, saying hello and being open will get you noticed around the office in a good way.

Does it work? In my case, it certainly did. After my summer was over at the creative shop, I kept up my relationships with my team, the company's HR recruiter and all of my former fellow interns, and it was one of the latter who actually helped me land my first post-school job. She was interviewing at a media agency and gave me a reference to contact. They were happy to schedule an interview, and – about an hour or so after the meeting – I got a call from the company offering me a job!

Everyone's professional path, starting with an internship, has different twists and turns. All it takes is a little discipline, curiosity and friendliness to create a truly life-changing experience. Most importantly, remember to take advantage of every opportunity, and be open to the idea that the internship could be the first stepping stone in launching a successful career.

About the Author

Ally Day is a digital media supervisor at MediaCom, Ad Age's 2015 Media Agency of the Year. She currently works on the Canon account and also has experience across entertainment, finance and pharmaceutical clients. She attended the University of Miami and is a proud Canes fan.

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