, How to Succeed at an Internship!

This week, I’m proud to showcase a guest blog from one of my clients. – Amy

So you just received an offer for a great internship – great company, lots of smart people, everybody is friendly… this internship is going to shoot you to a full-time position with the company in no time! Right? Well don’t be fooled by movies like the internship and think you could be the next Vince Vaughn or Owen Wilson. A full-time offer may be yours but only if you understand what this “internship” is really about.

Okay, so let’s start with a quick True/False internship full time job interview quiz:

  • Your company hired you as a contribution to the community. They want to train you and make you a more marketable candidate for your next job.
  • Your company hired you to do the mind-numbing administrative work that they don’t want an expensive employee to do.
  • You will learn something at your internship.
  • You can get fired from an internship for poor job performance.
  • Your company is worried that you will require a lot of training just to do simple tasks.

Here are the answers: all were true except the first one. If you find these statements a bit jarring then I’ve done my job. You see, I’ve hired a number of interns and managed them directly. I know how our executives view interns and I understand the motivations for attracting interns to work for us. Here’s my insight for interns to understand “the internship” and how to get the most out of one.

Bring It

Internships are not cushy jobs. You can’t just roll in when you want, you can’t take an hour for lunch and you can’t chat & text with your friends all day. When you are at your internship you need to add value and show effort. This means putting your game face on and punching out your tasks and doing so efficiently, accurately and thoroughly.

Figure out how to work with your manager

Many times (especially in the beginning of your internship) you won’t be able to do your tasks quickly, accurately and thoroughly. You need to figure out the correct balance of asking for help and trying to do the task on your own. This is a function of the task you need to do but, more importantly, the expectations of your manager. One of the biggest intern mistakes, in my opinion, is not asking for clarification when you don’t understand the task. It isn’t easy to push back on your manager and press him or her for answers but it will be worth it when you deliver the task accurately and timely. That said, your manager also expects you to take a reasonable amount of time to try and figure out your steps. Your manager expects you to come to her/him with well thought out questions and what information you have already researched to understand the next steps. Which leads to the next bullet point.

Learn to fish

Don’t expect someone to walk you through every task. When you don’t know something, stop for a moment and think about it. Determine in sufficient detail what information you need and these questions:

  • Can I find it on my own?
  • Can I figure it out or make some assumptions?
  • Where is the source of this information and how do I access that source?

Don’t come to your manager and say, “oh, I couldn’t figure it out” or “could you show me how to do that”. The individual who ‘punts’ the task back to their manager without sufficient research will not get a full-time offer at a competitive wage at the end of the internship. Be resourceful and try to figure something out. At least go out on a limb and make a decision. Present your option and explain your decision-making process. Your manager will at least see your effort, initiative and resourcefulness. Showing those attributes are actually more important than delivering the task (in the long run).

Study the details

If your goal is to get the task done then you are missing the point of doing the task. Each task you do is supposed to expose you to how your company operates, where information is kept and what goals your manager is driving towards. Look for those things in the tasks you do. One day your manager will give you a task and he’ll assume your know all of these things. Look for these answers. Know the details. Think like your manager. Be ready.

Exceed Expectations

Once, I asked one of my interns to put together a report for me. Instead of a spreadsheet with the data, he sent me a link to where I could find the data. This led me to a number of conclusions about this intern and his motivation level (whether or not they were true):

    1. He wasn’t listening to what I had to say.
    2. He didn’t seek clarification to understand what the deliverable was.
    3. He wasn’t focused on my problem, just his.
    4. He was lazy.
    5. He didn’t respect me.

Any of those would be grounds to consider ending the internship. Even if the statements do not reflect his intentions, his behaviors led me to perceive those characteristics about him. Remember, perception is reality. Your behaviors will convey messages about you, your motivation, your character, how you might behave as a full-time employee.

Let’s look at the other way of handling this request. Deliver the report with a detailed explanation of any assumptions or any challenges that may impact the report. Throw in some formatting so the data is easier to read. Come back within 1 minute of being assigned the task and ask your manager clarifying questions and ask your manager to confirm your approach to delivering the task. Do yourself a favor and ask all the questions at one time – don’t keep going back and interrupting your manager.

Respect Your Time

Your manager has at least 25 things she would like to hand-off to you on your first day. She may only give you one or two. Treat these with a sense of urgency and show your manager that you are being efficient with your time. If you have down time, it doesn’t mean that you can surf or leave early or make some personal calls. It is actually your chance to shine by delivering something your manager didn’t ask for.

It’s also important to show your manager that you are thinking about what is best for the business. Go to your manager when you run into an inefficiency or have some downtime and demonstrate that you respect your time, her time and the company’s resources.

Focus on building interpersonal relationships

It seems that everyone, particularly college students, are addicted to constantly changing personal information. Texts, chats, posts, calls, emails, etc. continue to pop up on our computers and phones all day. It can be tough to ignore all these constant distractions, so keep your phone at a place that won’t distract you throughout the day. In fact, don’t bring your phone with you into a meeting unless it is absolutely necessary and, if it is, don’t check it constantly or take a non-urgent call.

Employers view interpersonal communication skills, having a positive attitude and teamwork skill as being important or very important when hiring for entry-level positions. Engage in interpersonal communication skills with your co-workers and work to develop those relationships rather than using technology to keep in constant contact with your friends. Begin to focus on soft skills if you want to get that new job and excel in it.

Write Everything Down

When your manager gives you a task verbally, don’t assume that you’ll remember it. Write it down and make a habit of writing it down. Often your manager will give you a lot of detail on how to do the task or what the finished deliverable will look like. Also, your manager may start rattling off more than one task. When you don’t write it down your manager loses confidence that you’ll deliver what is needed.

When you start a task, jot down the steps required in sufficient detail. If you have to repeat the task then you’ll have a great reference. Also, your manager will love it when you deliver a series of process documents at the end of your internship!

Introduce Yourself

You are the new person at the company. Everyone else has met in-person and regularly communicates. The way your co-workers interact with people is NOT how you should initially work with people you haven’t met. For example, if you need to find out where a deliverable is from a co-worker you’ve never met, don’t drop them an email asking for it. At least introduce yourself in the beginning of the email. Preferably, call them up, say “hello” and have a conversation. The benefit is that your co-worker will be more likely to help you, plus you’ll have a solid networking connection.

Proactively manage & communicate your task list

Your manager wants to know that you are working hard and not wasting time & resources. He or she would love a daily report of 1) what you did and 2) what you are going to do. Provide one on a daily basis until he/she suggests otherwise. This regular report will help you in a number of other ways:

  • Show off all the work that you are doing
  • Align with your manager and make sure you are working on what he/she wants you too
  • Make it easier to update your resume with your internship accomplishments
  • Show that you have mastered the easy/recurring tasks and that you are ready for a bigger challenge

Know Your Job Description

Review the job description and understand what is expected of you. You need to understand if your internship is still on track and you need to understand if you are doing what you are supposed to. If you get a task that seems out of alignment, ask your manager for clarification. What really makes a manager’ day is when you suggest a task/project that would help your manager AND falls under the responsibility of your job description!

Tell them you want the job

Your internship is a recurring interview. Every day your manager and co-workers will wonder if they would like to work with you full-time. Thus, treat each day like it was your only interview. That includes telling them you want this job – even if you aren’t sure and aren’t overly thrilled with this job. Keep in mind that your situation may be very different when it is time to start looking for a full-time job or your next internship. It may be your best option. Plus you may realize this is the job is you really want to do! Considering those scenarios, make sure your boss knows you want the job. Any indication you don’t want a full-time job or that you are dissatisfied, in any way, and your manager may just write you off for anything more than your internship.


, How to Succeed at an Internship!

Amy Wolfgang

Amy Wolfgang is a career coach who founded Wolfgang Career Coaching and co-founded Coaching 4 Good. She brings over 15 years of corporate and coaching experience to help organizations boost employee engagement while simultaneously helping her clients excel in their careers. She is a certified PCM (Professional Career Manager) and has a Master’s degree in Educational Psychology from The University of Texas at Austin.

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