How to make the most of your internship
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With classes and exams wrapping up at most colleges and universities in the coming weeks, many students will turn their attention to various jobs and internships. While some students anticipate that their internships will be exciting, interesting, and meaningful opportunities that lead to deepening interest and directly benefit their future careers, others think it will be overwhelming, difficult and downright scary. Whatever the case, follow these golden rules.
Firstly, attitudes matter a lot. Embrace your internship with a can-do attitude and be flexible. Don’t feel that certain tasks or work is beneath you. Be professional, communicate clearly, show up on time, ask questions when you don’t understand, and be proactive about volunteering for new tasks. Think of your internship as an extended job interview. Take Pride In Your Work: Make the little stuff count, like managing your time, checking your work, and being respectful of others.
Correspondingly, it is vital to understand the office norms. Organizations have different cultural rules when it comes to use of technology. For example, some might frown at taking a personal cell call at your desk and view it as unprofessional, while others might find this perfectly acceptable. The same goes for dress codes. In the work place, in office people dress in business casual or formal business attire. Coming to work in t-shirt and jeans may not be appropriate.
Ladies are more affected here- revealing dresses and miniskirts are not a good idea. Crazy hairstyles and sharp stilettos will not help either. This is internship not a blind date meeting or a fashion exhibition. Dress like everyone else and blend in so someone from the outside can’t tell you are an intern.
Similarly, get to know people; spend time getting to know other people that work for the organization with brief break room conversations or having lunch, dinner, or coffee. Find a few staffers that you want to shadow or learn from and develop a professional relationship.
Participate: don’t feel confined by written learning objectives. As long as you are accomplishing your goals, you may also want to ask about attending other meetings both inside and outside the office. There is so much to learn from observing and understanding organizational culture, interactions, power dynamics, leadership practices, and team work.
In addition to that, build relationships and networks. The internship is not just about getting work experience. It is a great networking opportunity. Building relationships at the organization can help you beyond your internships.
Take initiative. Even if you’ve completed your assignments for the day, there’s always something you can do to help. If you don’t feel comfortable asking your supervisor for something new to work on, do research on the industry you’re working in, ask a colleague from another department if there’s something you can help with or develop a new idea you can present to your superiors. Your internship is a great laboratory for learning new skills and ideas. Just because the task isn’t specifically related to your degree, it might open up your world.
Make a long-term plan. It’s overwhelming enough to think about tomorrow’s lunch and next week’s haircut, but try to think ahead about how you want this internship to fit into your career trajectory. Do you have time to continue working during the school year? Would you like to return next summer? Have you had enough?
Students should not be afraid to ask questions. Sometimes we feel that asking a question makes us look stupid.
It is the opposite, it makes you seem curious and an engaged learner, not a sign of inability. However, be careful how often you interrupt your supervisor to ask questions. Sometimes it is helpful to keep a log and ask them during your regular meeting.
Finally, be friendly to everyone, especially the people that you will be working with most. For an intern, this often means the mail room staff, copy room staff, receptionist and executive assistants.
When all is said and done, an internship will not allow you to determine with absolute certainty which industry will be the best fit for you, but even your “mistakes” can be instructive as you develop your career path. Make the most of your internship.
The writer is a lecturer at The Adventist University of Central Africa