With 2022 “graduation season” behind us, I’d be remiss if I didn’t offer some advice on how an internship (“co-op” back in the day) provides an opportunity to gain transferrable skills and experience, start building your professional network and kickstart your career.
An internship is so much more than memorizing coffee orders. Your internship experiences—I recommend doing several—can be immensely valuable, offering you a chance to build skills to showcase on your resume and LinkedIn profile and, most importantly, establish professional relationships with professionals in the industry you aspire to become a part of.
As an intern, your goals are:
- Learn what you want and need to know. (TIP: Create a list of what you want to gain from your internship. On your first day, share your list with the person coaching you.)
- Make a positive impression. (Make a strong enough impression, and—fingers-crossed—you’ll likely receive a job offer.)
- Begin building your professional network.
Creating a great impression starts with being relentlessly punctual. Woody Allen said it best, “Eighty percent of success is showing up.” Show up on time, or better yet early. Arrive for meetings before they begin. Complete tasks by their deadlines. Employers value reliable employees. Internships are usually 3 – 4 months long, so give your internship no less than 100%.
“Every job is a self-portrait of the person who did it. Autograph your work with excellence.” – Ted Key, American cartoonist
Take on every task and assignment you’re given with an unwavering commitment to excellence. It’s never beneath you to do what’s asked of you. If you’re asked to make coffee, make the best coffee your colleagues have ever tasted. If asked to create an Excel template, put extra effort into ensuring it’s accurate, aesthetically pleasing, and comprehensive. Continually delivering exceptional results is how you create a reputation (READ: Personal brand) that advances your career forward.
Act when you see a need. (e.g., sign for a package and deliver it directly to the recipient, offer to cover reception during lunch) Don’t wait to be told. Checking your Instagram account while waiting to be given something to do is never a good look. Interns who never sat idle and proactively sought out where they could be of help, or pitched in without being asked, are the ones I remember. Deliver more than expected, do what no one else is willing to do, and you’ll be appreciated and remembered.
As an intern, it’s expected you’ll ask questions… lots of questions.
Asking good questions is the sign of an intellectually curious, diligent person, which is a turn-on. Think—in advance—of questions to ask. Spend time formulating your questions. When meeting with a peer or superior, think of thoughtful questions you can ask to demonstrate you have prepared for the meeting. If you’re in a meeting with management, don’t focus on your answers but on what’s missing. With me, asking the questions no one else is asking (e.g., “How does A relate to B?”, “How has the company dealt with these issues in the past?”) earns lots of points. Elephant-in-the-room questions often steer a group’s thinking and conversation in a more productive direction—this is how you become an influencer.
TIP: When you hear someone ask a great, conversation-altering question, write it down and reflect on what made it great.
Ask at least one authentic question in every meeting you attend. By following this advice, you’ll become comfortable asking questions in a group setting, hone your ability to ask questions that lead to real insight and reveal your intellectual curiosity.
The most valuable benefit of an internship is it offers the ideal setting to establish professional relationships you can leverage throughout your career, whether job hunting or seeking advice. Since internships don’t last long, interns tend to focus solely on their work and only form connections with their immediate colleagues and fellow interns. Don’t be that intern! Cultivate as many professional relationships throughout the company as possible.
Don’t be shy to introduce yourself to Senior Managers, Directors and VPs—they were once in your shoes. Invite colleagues whom you notice management hold in high regard to lunch. Ask them questions. (Who doesn’t like to talk about themselves and their successes?) Offer to help where you can.
TIP: Observe great relationship-builders and learn from them. I recommend reading The Connector’s Way: A Story About Building Business One Relationship at a Time, by Patrick Galvin.
An internship is hard work that’ll pay off. Only doing what’s expected of you won’t get you noticed; you’ll be just another intern. Go above and beyond, from arriving on time to doing exemplary work (Yes, that includes getting coffee orders right.) and maximizing your internship opportunities.
Nick Kossovan, a well-seasoned veteran of the corporate landscape, offers advice on searching for a job. You can send Nick your questions at [email protected].