I remember speaking to a friend of mine who just completed his first internship. “Don’t bother” was the advice he gave me. He said he just spent three months getting people coffee and delivering documents. His experience, of course, is far from unique. Most interns are happy to do that.
Fortunately, I decided to ignore his advice and went ahead with my internship. Mine was a complete opposite experience. In fact, I wouldn’t be where I am if it weren’t for that first internship I did.
So what did I do differently?
You see, most people, my friend included, go into an internship with no end in mind. They assume it’s like finding love: you stumble around in the dark and hope you find the one. But that’s not what most successful interns do. These people have a clear set of goals they want achieve before they complete an internship.
And every day they go to work, they work to achieve that list. Here are 5 most common goals successful interns pursue:
1. Try Everything You Want To Try
More than once I’ve met people who landed their so called “dream job” but quickly discovered that they hated it. For example, I know of a guy who wanted to be a lifeguard, but later told me that the job isn’t what TV portrays it to be. In reality, you just sit around most of the day.
If you don’t want to spend your precious time trying to land jobs you actually hate, internships are great opportunities for you to test the waters. But here’s the key: make sure you get to try everything you want to experience.
Most interns stuck with one particular monotonous job and never got to experience what a real employee in that industry does – and therefore left with an incomplete view of what the role entails.
For example, a friend of mine interned as a graphic designer. All he did during his internship was fiddle with Illustrator. He loved it. But when he started his first full-time job as a graphic designer, he quickly found out that 50% of his time was spent on creating reports and presentations for the executives.
2. Learn a New Skill
This is the whole point of interning yet few interns actually learn a new skill during an internship. Instead, what most of them want out of the free labour is to be able to put that experience in their resume. They couldn’t have wasted a better opportunity!
It’s true that during regular business hours – especially during peak season – most interns will have to spend their time doing low-level jobs. So what I like to do is to come in early, or leave later, just to have the opportunity to play around with the company’s advance tools or – and this works more than most interns assume – get a senior to mentor you.
Everyone’s happy to help if you’re sincere. Most skills require just 30 minutes of lecture anyway and the rest comes from practice, which of course, you can do alone.
3. Build Your Network
You probably already know that 60% to 80% of all jobs are filled before they were listed. How do you make sure you’re a candidate for one these openings? Networking!
Internships are not a time for you to shy away. There will never be a better excuse to get to know industry veterans than when you’re working with them! Go out of your way to meet people in different departments. Don’t bring your own lunch – go out and hang out with them.
4. Ask for a Testimonial
If it turns out that you decided to leave the company for another opportunity, then make sure you first get a reference. This is quite straightforward: ask your boss if it’s OK for a prospective employer of yours to contact him/her.
But here’s one thing that many interns miss: a testimonial. Now, most people have a hard time giving testimonials so what smart interns do is write one about themselves and ask if their bosses agree with it. If he agrees with what you wrote, simply ask him if it is OK for you to use it as his words.
Once you get the testimonial, you can use it on your resume, your website and even your cover letter. Trust me when I say that you’ll get a lot more replies when you have a testimonial.
5. Let your employer know you appreciate the opportunity
This is a technique I learned from a mentor of mine.
Remember that there’s a lot more your employer can help you with than just an internship. He can introduce you to a colleague who has an opening. He might hire you again 2 years down the road. He might even be a potential client in the future.
So before you leave, show your gratitude for the opportunity given to you. I like to take my boss to lunch and leave a handwritten thank you note on my last day in an internship. How effective is this?
I have had the chance to intern four times so far, two of them offered me a full-time job and one became a client six months later. Need I say more?
A resident of Sydney, Australia, Andrianes Pinantoan graduated with a masters degree in marketing from the University of Western Sydney. He is currently the editor of the Open Colleges blog (http://blog.opencolleges.edu.au). When not working, he can be found reading psychology.