Beginning in late May, the subways fill with college students who have flocked to New York City for summer internships. Anyone traveling to midtown on a weekday morning can easily see the influx of eager college students and MBAs headed to their publishing houses, law firms, accounting companies, and media offices. And on a summer Friday, interns are just about the only people working in offices. When I used to manage internships at Time Incorporated, this was absolutely my favorite time of year. Recruiters spend the school year cultivating relationships, assessing candidates, collaborating with managers, and assembling the “perfect” class of interns. It’s just amazing to watch everyone come together face to face when they finally arrive for orientation!
Having a successful internship is not solely the responsibility of the company. Interns must become active participants in order to optimize the experience. Whether the internship turns out to be your dream job or not, or whether your manager turns out be a great mentor or not, interns can make the most of the experience by staying focused on the following behaviors:
1) Observe. Before jumping in too quickly with judgments and recommendations, spend time observing the environment, understanding the company culture, and making sense of how the organization works. Try reaching out to colleagues within your department first and then branching out to develop a bigger picture understanding. Learn how departments work together and where the obstacles lie. Spend time watching, asking questions, and reflecting on your observations.
2) Ask questions. Most managers appreciate curiosity, but interns do need to strike a balance. Interns should keep in mind that managers and colleagues are juggling full plates and questioning can become overwhelming. Nonetheless, curious, creative, and intelligent interns set themselves apart and find ways to be appropriately curious. For some interns, they’ve had great success establishing a weekly meeting time with their manager to discuss their experiences, observations, and questions. Interns who are genuinely curious build better networks because their questions lead to introductions and more substantive interactions. They’re also seen as team players and problem solvers.
3) Take initiative.Your internship is a hands-on course with unlimited opportunities for learning. No matter what employers throw at you or which errands you have to run, make sure to find some takeaway from each experience you have. This learning includes both technical skills and soft skills with regard to managing time, priorities, goal-setting, and work relationships. During periods of “down time”, look for ways to be helpful and focus on adding value.
4) Focus on making contributions. Managers appreciate interns who can rise to the challenge and maintain grace under pressure. The first two weeks of your internship are an especially critical time period for establishing your reputation, and you’ll want to prove that you can do the nitty gritty as well as the substantive work. Think critically about the observations you’ve made, the questions you’ve discussed, and the experiences you’ve had to make valuable contributions, both big and small. If you focus on the needs of the business and think like an entrepreneur, you’ll definitely bolster your effectiveness.By Brad Hoffman, M.S.Ed.
CEO and Founder
My Learning Springboard, Inc.