Internships & Other High Impact Experiences

Success at the Internship Site

Congratulations! You got the internship. Follow these suggestions to make the most of your experience.

ATTIRE: Take your cue from your co-workers and other staff members and dress so you “fit in”. On the first day, dress neatly, simply, and appropriately for your job. Your supervisor can provide guidance if you have questions. Dressing professionally is just as important as behaving professionally.

PROMPTNESS AND DEPENDABILITY: Get an early start the first few days to ensure you don’t underestimate the travel time. Being late the first day or any day is simply not acceptable. Establishing credibility in the workplace doesn’t happen overnight, but being trustworthy and dependable will help you earn the respect of your supervisor and co-workers. This in turn will lead to opportunities for more responsibility. If an emergency or unforeseen circumstance comes up, be sure to call and advise your employer of the situation. If you need to take a day off, make arrangements in advance.

ATTITUDE: An important part of why you were selected for an internship is the employer’s perception of your attitude, since that is critical to the development of your skills and your level of productivity. Success in the workplace is tied directly to a positive, “can-do” attitude, being a team player, cooperating with co-workers, and being enthusiastic and willing to work within the structure of the organization.

ORIENTATION: Even if your employer does not have a structured orientation process, you will still need to read materials, meet co-workers, move into your workspace, and verify with your employer the nature of your responsibilities. (If you are doing an academic internship be sure that both you and the employer are clear on the learning outcomes which have been developed.) Also be sure you have complete and accurate information regarding the regulations and policies of the workplace, then follow the rules at all times.

COMMUNICATION: Communicate your professionalism by investing your time in properly formatted, easy to read documents and emails. No text-speak or emojis. Remember, every aspect of your behavior communicates your level of professionalism. Take the time to return every email and phone call to ensure you send the right message about your organization or clients.

INTERACTING WITH OTHER STAFF: Don’t just wait for someone to come to you with work. Ask around the office to see if anyone needs help. “Go fer,” or routine, work exists in all organizations, and it is expected that interns will have their share of it. However, if the majority of your responsibilities are not challenging enough, don’t hesitate to consult with your supervisor. Be cautious about asking for or assuming additional responsibilities unless you are certain that you have sufficient time to devote to these. Since the quality of your work is what you will be judged on, it is important to keep your supervisor informed of any unrealistic deadlines or other problems that impact your performance. While supervisors may appear to be omnipotent, they aren’t mind-readers so remember that communication is essential.

TIME MANAGEMENT: Be sure you have a clear understanding of the priority of different tasks that relate to any project you are working on. Identify and inventory the resources that will be needed to accomplish these tasks. Coordinate with your supervisor to secure any assistance or materials that you may be lacking. Make the best use of any discretionary time by organizing your day according to your tasks and responsibilities (a day planner calendar is helpful). Avoid procrastinating on responsibilities you aren’t fond of, by setting specific times to do them and/or divide into smaller tasks. Be aware of how your energy level and moods fluctuate throughout the day and schedule accordingly. To ensure you meet deadlines, always build in some extra time to deal with unexpected delays or surprises.

PROBLEM-SOLVING: Don’t hesitate to ask questions and seek guidance, but do be sensitive to others’ time and schedules when assistance is needed. Many interns will only look for something once before they give up and ask for help. Interns learn more by trying many different resources and figuring out the solution themselves.

LEAVE SCHOOLWORK AT SCHOOL: It’s inappropriate to do school projects at work. Supervisors often take this as a sign that their intern cannot handle meaningful projects.

ASK FOR FEEDBACK: Be sure you ask what you can do better. Beyond asking for feedback on your performance, ask your supervisor to look over your resume and cover letter to provide you with some feedback. Always be sure to request a letter of recommendation when you finish.

KEEP IN TOUCH: Professional contacts are one of the most valuable benefits of having an internship. Be sure to keep in touch with your colleagues long after so they’ll be sure to remember you when a prospective employer calls.