5 Ways to Get the Most Out of Your Internship

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Between working on big projects, asking thoughtful questions and, yes, making that clichéd coffee run, it’s easy to forget you should be getting more than just experience and a line on your resume from your summer internship. Along with your everyday tasks, you should also be focused on the bigger picture: how this position can build your reputation in the industry, earn you connections and further your career. Here’s what to do so your internship will keep working for you long after you’ve written all of your thank-you notes and had your last feedback session

1. Ask questions

For unpaid internships, your “salary” is your in-office education. Ensure that you’re learning as much as possible by asking questions! Requesting advice or information from your supervisor doesn’t make you annoying; on the contrary, it shows that you’re invested in the internship. Ask about concepts, terminology, the roles different employees play, what technology and software the company uses, etc. However, there is such a thing as a bad question, so be strategic.

“Do your research first,” says Lisa Chau, the founder of marketing and PR consulting firm Alpha Vert. “Don't ask anything that can be easily answered by searching online.”

You should also be careful about when and where you quiz your boss. If he or she is stressed or crunched for time, you probably won’t receive the most detailed or complete response. Unless your question is extremely time-sensitive or context-relevant, write it down for when your boss has an uninterrupted, calm period of time to answer it.

2. Take notes

Always have a pen and paper on hand—you never know when you’ll need it!

“This sounds so basic, but I can’t tell you how frequently my twentysomething clients come to meet with me and have nothing to take notes with,” says Allison Cheston, author of the blog Career Connector. “Not only is it impossible to keep everything in your head, but writing down important points shows you’re interested and focused.”

You should definitely show up to your first day with a notebook and a pen ready, but don’t get lazy and start leaving them at home as your internship progresses! Write things down all summer long whenever you learn a new procedure, task or requirement. Not only will this seriously improve your learning curve, increase your credibility and help you avoid asking how to do the same task twice, but at the end of the summer, you can organize your notes into a handy booklet for your replacement. Ding-ding-ding: that’s the sound of intern points racking up.

3. Ask people to lunch or coffee

We’ve all heard that networking is essential, but how exactly do you do it? After all, it’s not like playing tag — you can’t walk up to someone, introduce yourself and bam! Call him or her a connection. 

Lauren Berger, aka The Intern Queen, suggests making a list of people both inside and outside your department whom you’re interested in meeting. You can even include people who don’t work at the company but work in the same city. After you’ve compiled a list, send personalized emails to each person asking for an informational interview.

“Maintaining a sense of professionalism, introduce yourself in one to two sentences and explain the purpose of the meeting,” Berger says. “For example, ‘I’d love to sit down with you and hear about how you got started and get your advice.’”

Berger suggests keeping the entire email to eight sentences or less. She also recommends reaching out early in your internship so that you can schedule appointments with even the busiest employees.  “If you don’t hear back in one week, send a follow-up email,” Berger says.

However, it’s probably not possible for you to meet with every single professional you’d like to talk to — but that doesn’t mean you can’t still build useful relationships.

“People have really busy schedules, so I relied on talking to people in the halls and at their desks and then sending follow-up emails with little details like, ‘Good luck on your presentation!’” says Tansu Phillips, a sophomore at Chapman University who just finished interning for Ryan Seacrest.

If you want even more advice for networking at your job, this article has some great tips.

4. Maintain the connections you’ve made

While it’s fantastic to get face time with people who can help you in your career, that face time won’t mean anything if you don’t keep in touch with those resources.

“Definitely keep a comprehensive LinkedIn profile to stay involved with the company,” Chau says. “That will allow you to maintain your connections.”

These connections can “recommend” you for various skills they saw you use during your internship, such as social media, blogging, editing and so on. This dramatically increases your credibility and will be super helpful during the job hunt! LinkedIn is also a great way for the people you met during your internship to stay current on your career without any effort on their part. When you accomplish something cool or start searching for a position, they’ll automatically see it on their newsfeeds.

Even if you don’t use LinkedIn, make an effort to keep in contact with the people you meet during your internship. Once again, email is your best friend. Send the people you worked closely with messages once a semester, taking the time to make the messages personal. You should comment on some sort of growth, change or achievement in their professional lives (“I saw that the company was mentioned in a Huffington Post article, congratulations!”) and include an update on you (“I just finished up my first semester of sophomore year and have been freelancing for two design websites.”). Staying in touch ensures that if you need their help or advice, it won’t seem like you’re just using them.

5. Build a portfolio

At the beginning of your internship, ask your supervisor for his or her permission to keep or make copies of the work you have completed, such as papers, projects, presentations or reports. You may also want to include records of positive feedback or any other proof you have showing that you did a great job.

“For example, a PR intern could include press releases they wrote, press materials they created for a client, media hits they secured and a letter of recommendation,” Berger says.

An internship portfolio is incredibly helpful in demonstrating to potential employers your growth, the skills you learned, the personal and career goals you achieved and your work ethic.

The next time you’re powering through a 10-page report or helping with your company’s social media accounts, don’t forget that an internship is about more than just the day-to-day experience. Use these five tips to make your internship the experience that keeps on working for you!

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About The Author

Aja Frost is a college junior living in San Luis Obispo, California. She is equally addicted to good books and froyo, and considers the combo of the two the best since pb & b (peanut butter and banana.) Aja has been published on the Huffington Post, USA Today College, Newsweek, The Daily Muse, xoJane, and Bustle, among other publications. Follow her on Twitter: @ajavuu