Top 10 Ways to Get the Most from Your Summer Internship
By Kate Szumanski, Villanova University, Director of Professional Development and Internships
Congratulations! You’ve secured a summer internship! Perhaps you already have worked one, two, or three weeks on the job. You’re adapting to your new routine and schedule, applying your knowledge, exploring career paths, and growing your expertise in the “real world.”
This is terrific, right? We pat ourselves on the back for a job well done.
But now what? What’s next?
You can maximize your summer internship by following my #TopTen tips for success on the job. If you follow this advice, I promise that you’ll gain huge benefits from your summer work experience that will extend well into the new academic year and beyond. These healthy approaches to work will become lifelong healthy habits if you commit to them now.
- Arrive on Time. It’s a given, right? Get to work on time. Be punctual. And if the bus or train is late, or if there is a massive traffic jam on the highway, alert your co-workers when you safely can. Your thoughtfulness will be noticed. #Professionalism
- Dress for Success. Be clean, neat, and appropriate in attire, and if you have questions about appropriate dress, feel free to ask someone on your team. Again, your thoughtfulness will be noticed. #Professionalism
- Bring a Can-Do, Positive Attitude. Everyone gravitates toward the person in the office who is resourceful and motivated, and who creatively and collaboratively solves problems. Be this person. Be the person who everyone else says is a joy to work with. You know this person, and if it is you, all the better. #Professionalism
- Show Initiative. Complete your assignments early? Identify a mundane task that needs attention in the workplace? Be the person who says, “May I devote a bit of time to organizing the supply closet?” I can almost guarantee that this type of initiative will get you out of the supply closet and onto a more enriching and meaningful assignment. (But never underestimate the value of a tidy supply closet. Harmonious workplaces are built — in part — on clean and neat shared spaces. It reflects respect for others.) #Professionalism
- Meet or Exceed Deadlines. Complete your work accurately and on time. Ensure that the quality of your work is top notch. Don’t sacrifice quality for speed. Don’t rush but don’t dillydally, either. #Professionalism
- Communicate Wisely. This is a tricky one. Maybe you initially don’t have questions about your assignments, but as you dive into them, important questions emerge. You might feel embarrassed to ask clarifying questions. On the other hand, maybe you freely ask questions without first doing some smart investigating on your own. (True confession: One of my workplace pet peeves is when I’m asked questions that easily can be answered by some quick Web surfing.) Don’t be “that intern” who either never asks questions or who asks waaaaaay too many. Communicate wisely at the right times. Maybe you have a standing meeting with your supervisor. That’s a good time.Maybe you can e-mail back and forth comfortably. That’s a good strategy. Maybe you can stop by his or her office. That’s another good strategy. Read your supervisor and try to pick up on subtle cues that reveal his or her preferred communication style. Don’t under-communicate, but don’t overdo it, either. #Professionalism
- Lunch With Co-Workers. It’s tempting to eat alone or to run errands at lunchtime, and you certainly can spend your lunch hour this way. You also can commit yourself to a professional lunch date once or twice a week. Get to know people in and out of your department. Why did they gravitate to their roles and to this particular organization? What advice do they have for emerging young professionals like you who seek to enter the field? These opportunities allow you to practice the art of networking and science of small talk. You’ll also learn how to talk about yourself in meaningful ways that resonate positively and memorably with others. A HUGE tangential benefit of getting to know your co-workers better is improved teamwork. (See above photo.) We don’t work in isolation, alone in a vacuum. We collaborate with others. Be the intern who both recognizes and values the importance of a high-functioning team! Cultivate team by reaching out and communicating. #Professionalism
- Connect on Linked In. Professional relationships can extend well beyond your 10-week summer internship if you remain connected. The social media platform, Linked In, allows you to remain connected to individuals you’ve met on the job. (And while you’re actively connecting on Linked In, be sure to update your Linked In profile with your summer internship.) #Professionalism
- Be the Intern Who Says, “YES!” When your boss presents an either challenging or seemingly un-fun project, be the intern who says, “Yes, I’ll do it.” Initiative and positive attitude demonstrated? Check! Face time with the boss? Check! Will this lead to bigger and better things? Potentially a check! A risk worth taking? Yes, you bet it is! #Professionalism
- Always, Always Be Professional. If you’ve read this far, you’ve noticed a recurring theme and hashtag: #Professionalism. This concept is described in detail on the Mind Tools Web site, and I’ll quote from it here:
Professionalism is a trait that’s highly valued in the workforce. It has many attributes, including:
- Specialized knowledge.
- Honesty and integrity.
- Looking the part.
To improve your own professionalism, focus on improving in each of these areas.
Your summer internship will help you develop these areas and understand each more fully.
I’ll leave you with a question that we ask our summer interns at Villanova University in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences who are earning academic credit for their summer internships: What does professionalism mean to you?
Kate Szumanski, ’95, ’97, is the director of internships and professional development in the Office for Undergraduate Students in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Villanova University. Follow her on Twitter @KateSzumanski.