A good internship can provide you with valuable experience and give you a real advantage in a competitive job market. It can be a great addition to your resume, a cornerstone of your portfolio and a stepping stone to a more permanent position in your field.
Here are five tips to help you find a great opportunity and then make the most of it:
1. Be specific
Employers aren’t stupid; they can spot a generic cover letter from a mile away. If yours falls into this bracket, it’ll go straight into the recycling bin with all the others like it. A generic cover letter screams “I don’t care who I get an internship with, just as long as I get one.”
Instead of randomly shooting off applications, decide what you want to get out of an internship and then focus on finding a few that meet your requirements. Do some research into each company and create an individually tailored application for each position you’re interested in.
Not only does a targeted approach make it more likely that you’ll hear back from an employer; it also increases your chances of securing an internship that gives you the experience you want.
2. Forget about college life
If you’re a student or a recent graduate, office life may be a bit of an adjustment. While advice like “arrive on time” and “don’t turn up hungover every day” is pretty basic, it’s still important. But to make the most of your internship, you’ll need to consider a few changes you might not have expected.
Differences in the way you need to manage your time will quickly become apparent. When you’re given a college assignment, you’ll often have a number of weeks or months in which to complete it; in a workplace, you might suddenly have to finish a project by 5:00 p.m. the next day. That means you’ll have to prioritize your other work so nothing falls by the wayside while you complete the urgent request.
If you can master time management during your internship and complete the tasks you’re given quickly and efficiently, it’s more likely that you’ll be given the kind of more complex work that will really stand out on your resume.
3. Learn everything you can
An internship is an excellent learning experience, and you need to treat it as such. Your studies are relevant, but don’t expect to be an office authority based on what you’ve heard in your college lectures.
Your coworkers will have a range of business experience, and they’ll likely be willing to share their knowledge as long you’re ready to listen. Keep an open mind; an internship is a great way to discover your strengths and weaknesses, and if you go in with a fixed idea of what you’re good at, you might not get the most out of it.
An internship is likely to expose you to tasks and job roles you hadn’t considered and may open career paths you hadn’t expected to be interesting to you. A willingness to learn, not just about the world of business but also about yourself, is vital if your internship is going to be a rewarding experience.
4. Don’t be shy
Although being brash and arrogant isn’t a great option, you don’t have to be the office wallflower, either. Connect with as many colleagues as you can, and if you have the opportunity, build contacts with people from outside the company. You never know who might be able to help you to get a full-time job later on. “It’s not what you know, but who you know” may be a cliché, but networking should still be a vital part of your internship.
If you’re keen to take a more long-term role at your company, make sure people know. You don’t have to shout it from the rooftops, but let your supervisor know that you’re interested in being more than just an intern, and ask her to keep you in mind for any positions that open up.
5. Make a lasting good impression
Finishing an internship with relevant work experience is good, but having great references to back up that experience is even better. Being polite and friendly is a good start, but a little extra effort will make sure you’re remembered.
Make sure to over-deliver on your work: complete projects ahead of schedule, work within a tighter budget than you were given or add extra touches that make your supervisor’s life easier. If you’ve enjoyed your experience with the company, mention it on social media; people remember it when someone says nice things about them, and they’re usually more than happy to return the favor.
Will Stevens works for 123-reg.co.uk. The company was recently nominated for the Best Employment Experience as nominated by a student or intern in the UK’s National Council of Work Experience awards.