How to be Awesome at Your First Internship | Advice for Seniors and Recent Graduates
I was originally going to share this post last year (2020), but with everything going on I thought I'd save it for when internships were more likely to happen!
I'm sure you've heard this a million times already, but an internship is a great opportunity to learn more about an industry or career path. I was an intern way back in the day (and by that I mean the summers of 2012 and 2013), and now at my current job I worked with the interns our department hired. I won't start listing all the benefits of interning or job-shadowing because I'm sure you already hear that everywhere, but I do have some tips to help you be an awesome intern and get the most out of your experience.
What to Wear
It's always a good idea to ask about the dress code before you start the job, but I know terms like "business casual" aren't always very helpful. You can sometimes get an idea of what the company culture is like from their website, especially if they have employee headshots online. Some places are more laid-back, while others are more traditional. If you have an in-person interview, this is another opportunity to get an idea of the culture and attire expectations.
My advice is to dress up a little more than you think you have to, especially for the first few weeks. Putting effort into looking nice sends the message that you respect the company and your supervisors, and that you're ready to put effort into your work as well. By dressing nicely you'll also inspire yourself to feel more professional and ready to work. You can always adjust how much or how little (or how often) you dress up once you're more familiar with the culture and the way others dress.
And just because you want to dress up for your new job doesn't mean you have to leave your own style and personality behind. Dressing up for work doesn't have to mean wearing a pantsuit that makes you look like a courtroom stenographer from the 1970's. There's nothing wrong with putting a bit of creativity or personality into your work outfits.
Learn Something from Everything
There is a stereotype that jobs like filing papers, organizing cabinets, and other tedious tasks are passed off to the intern. And I'm not going to lie; they are. But hopefully these boring jobs won't be the only thing you have to do. When I was an intern at the high school I remember entering tons of address changes into a database, but I also got to help plan some events and write an article for the school's magazine. At my current job we tried to get our marketing interns involved in some interesting projects, but we did also delegate tasks like stuffing fliers into folders.
Don't get discouraged if you spend a lot of time doing what feels like busy work. Chances are your supervisor really appreciates your help with those tasks, and while it might not be the most exciting job at the company, it's probably more important than you realize. Even while you're updating spreadsheets or stuffing folders, you'll be able to learn something about the way a company in your industry operates, how different departments or employees work together and what their daily schedules look like, and you'll be able to interact with people who are doing the work you want to be doing someday.
Ask for More
If you see a specific project happening at the company that looks interesting, or if you see another employee working on something you think you'd enjoy, ask your supervisor if there's a way you can help out or be involved with these things. Especially if you're between projects, your supervisor will probably welcome specific input from you about what you'd like to do next. Asking to be involved with something specific shows that you're motivated to learn and that you're interested in the company's goals. It might not always be possible for you to get involved, but if it is, you get to work on something you enjoy more than filing or stuffing folders!
Be Positive, Friendly, and a Team Player
Having a good attitude and a friendly demeanor goes a long way. During your interview, chances are the interviewers are evaluating not just your qualifications, but also your personality and how well you'd fit in with the people you'd be working with. And when you're on the job, your performance and skills are definitely important, but your attitude is important too. Ask questions if you're not sure how to do something. Your supervisors will appreciate and remember your willingness to work hard and your flexibility to learn and try new things.
Those are my tips! I wrote this post with internships in mind, but they apply to starting any new job too. An academic advisor or mentor can probably give you tips specifically related to the career field and job you've chosen, but my suggestions can apply to any job or internship.