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How to be the Absolute Best Intern

How to be the Absolute Best Intern

Everyone wonders how they can be the best intern.  You’ve (finally) secured that coveted internship and all your hard work, connections, and good grades will come to fruition!  You’ve been selected from a tough crowd and are excited to get started and prove yourself from day one.

Interning at a company is supposed to be a mutually beneficial program.  The company gets access to a younger, more tech-savvy crowd, who can help them to keep up with recent trends. In addition, the company gets to test their interns and possibly make full-time offers to the ones who made the cut.

The student gains invaluable experience at the company.  They learn the ins-and-outs of the industry and company and can then make a better, more informed decision as to whether or not they would like to continue in that field.

But do you have what it takes to be the best intern?

Internships are really the absolute best way of getting your feet wet and understanding an industry.  You’ll learn from the ground up and will be better poised than someone straight out of college without that experience. But being the best intern at a company is not necessarily the easiest feat. 

Firstly, you may have competition from other interns in the program whom are also vying for the full-time offer.

Secondly, you will need to continue to juggle your schoolwork.  Many internships require that you maintain a certain grade point average (GPA) to continue the program. You’ll definitely want to maintain a positive outlook though. Never forget, just getting the internship is a feat in-of-itself and something you should always be proud of.

To really help you and give you an edge, I’ve compiled a list of things you should do from day one to be the absolute best intern you can be.

Know What You’re Getting Into

When I was back in college, I would apply to every internship available hoping I would land one.  If I was selected for an interview, I would do some quick research beforehand and hope that I would be able to charm them with my willingness to work hard. Now, you can still apply to every internship available, but I highly recommend that you do some research before applying and once you’ve been selected.

You don’t want to apply to something you’re not really interested in and risk alienating a potential future employer. If you’ve accepted an internship, you should do as much homework before the internship begins.

This means you should start from the very beginning.  Read-up on the company’s history, its current board members and executives, and its financial statements. From there, you should peruse their website and take the time to understand every facet of the company. Drilling in further, take the time to focus on your position title and what responsibilities you will be expected to handle.  Try and research what is and isn’t working. Come in on your first day prepared and ready with a list of questions and suggestions.

Don’t Be Shy

This is difficult and one that I struggled with at all my internships. As an intern, you may feel out-of-place and shy surrounded by senior members of the team.  You may think that your suggestions and opinions are not as worthy as everyone else’s.

I’m here to tell you that, that is absolutely, 100% false.

Your opinion is just as important as anyone else’s in the room.  Don’t be shy if you have a question, a suggestion, or are simply curious. No employer expects you, or any employee, to begin on their first day knowing all of the inner mechanics of the position and the company. Take the first 90 days as a time to be extra curious and to try and find out as much as you possibly can.

Keep a Journal and Detailed Notes

I had a friend who was let go from an extremely competitive internship because he wasn’t taking detailed notes and couldn’t recall what was discussed at meetings. While that is an extreme example, it’s one that we can learn from.

Keeping detailed notes will allow for you to remember what you were taught at training sessions and at team meetings. You will have your own reference and can look back if you’re unsure of an issue or how to handle a task.

In addition, keeping detailed notes will allow for you to show and describe, in detail, what you’ve been working on and what you’ve completed to your manager. Being your own advocate is crucial to getting that full-time offer and you should do everything possible to stand out.

Shoe Up Early and Leave Late

This one always gets the most groans.

Honestly, no one likes showing up early.  No one likes staying late.  But take a look at those who do put in the extra time, typically they’re the ones with the nicer offices and the higher titles. Staying late and coming in early when there isn’t much to do may be overkill.  But once you do get in the flow of the work, don’t hesitate to go the extra mile and stay a little extra.

Put Your Phone Away

I’m not going to try and sound old and tell the kids to put their phones away.  You can ask my wife; I may be the most addicted person to their phone than just about anyone we know.

But there is definitely a time and a place to do something. When interning, you want to give it your 100%, undivided attention.  Checking your phone is wasting that valuable time, time that you are not only getting paid for, but that you are looking to learn from. Getting caught on your phone probably won’t get you fired, but it may leave a mark with your manager as being someone who is not committed.

In addition, phones can be dangerous in the workplace. You may think that an innocent Snap or post on Instagram doesn’t mean much, but if you accidentally include confidential or secretive information it could cost you the internship. What you may think isn’t important may not be taken that way by others.  Don’t ever put anything work related on any social media!

Network

An often-overlooked advantage to getting an internship is the potential connections you can make. Many industries are extremely interconnected, with individuals knowing others in competitor companies.

An offer with the current company you’re interning with may not be guaranteed or may not happen.  However, if you do decide to stay in that same industry, new employers may reach out to previous ones for references on you. I knew a girl who was in the running for a full-time position at Company B.  She had just completed an internship at another company, Company A, but as they were maxed out on headcount, she was not offered the position.

When she met with Company B, she was asked matter-of-factly why she wasn’t offered a full-time position after her internship at Company A. She was honest and stated that although she felt like she did quality work, there simply wasn’t any room on the team for another full-time employee.

Well, the hiring manager at the Company B was at an industry event just days before and was talking to the manager at Company A. The former manager was bragging about how full their team was and how they were fully staffed.

An offer from Company B was made immediately. 

While this story is highly unlikely and may occur rarely, it’s important to know that people are more connected than we know or give credit. Always network and network effectively with everyone.  You just don’t know who will place a good word or who will simply brag about something.

Dress Professionally

Back in college, my typical wardrobe consisted of pajamas, shorts, and maybe a few jeans for special occasions. Let’s face it, college really isn’t where you build up your business professional wardrobe.

But once I got my first internship, that all changed, and had to change quickly. Being in a professional setting means dressing professionally.  You will want to wear and dress to emulate the coworkers around you. You should always use your best judgment, there is nothing wrong with wearing slacks and a button down, but if the entire team is wearing jeans and polos, you may want to stick with that.

Whatever it may be, you really don’t want to be the worst dressed. Brand affinity doesn’t mean too much, so don’t focus on that.  Rather, collect some key, neutral pieces that are versatile and can pair well with other items.

Be Adaptable

Part of any successful career is being able to be adaptable and flexible on tasks assigned and project lifecycles. A successful employee takes hurdles, obstacles, and roadblocks as teachable moments and works around them to get the task completed. They do so without complaint and without frustration.

In order to be the best intern you can, you should have a can-do mindset.  One that works to ensure the task is completed properly and on-time. You should accept that obstacles are a natural part of life and the workplace, things will not always go smoothly nor will you get it your way every time. Taking these obstacles in stride and working around them will make you a more valuable, reliable employee.

Keep Your Desk Clean

This isn’t your dorm room.  You’re in a professional setting and need to ensure that not only your behavior and dress reflect that, but that your working area reflects that too. Keep your desk clean.  Hide papers and anything unnecessary in the cabinets below your desk. Maintaining a clean working environment will not only look more professional to your peers and manager but will also help you to focus on your work.

Keep Your Work Laptop for Work

Some companies are more relaxed with company property, specifically the laptops assigned to employees, allowing them to take it home and utilize for personal use if needed.

However, you should always take precautionary steps when utilizing company property.  My general mantra is to separate work-related needs to the work laptop and all other personal needs to your own laptop.

Similarly, don’t login to social media sites, including Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit on your work device. Don’t check your fantasy football scores, don’t watch YouTube videos, and don’t check personal emails. While some companies are relaxed on it, it’s simply safer to be more careful and utilize your own laptop for those needs.

Conclusion

Getting an internship is definitely one of the most exciting times in your budding career.  It offers a sense of validation and accomplishment and allows you to begin building up your resume.  Being the best intern requires some sacrifice and hard work, but it will pay off in the end.  Make sure you continue to focus on your schoolwork and continue to network and you will land that dream job.  In addition, putting your best foot forward during your internship will help you increase your chances of getting a full-time offer at that company and can help you with salary negotiations.

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