Friday, May 28, 2010

How to Make the Most of Your Summer Internship

by Marthe Druska, Senior Associate Director, Employer Relations and Development

As the end of the academic year approaches, many students are preparing to begin summer internships in a wide range of fields across the country and around the world. Whether you’re headed off to your dream internship or into a temporary position that’s just meant to pay the bills, here are some important tips for making the most of your experience:

  1. Be on time. This may seem commonsense (because it is), but being punctual at your internship is of the utmost importance. This doesn’t just apply to the first few weeks on the job--we mean the entire summer. Even the Monday morning after your significant other was visiting for the weekend? Yes. Even the day after you returned from a vacation with your family? Yes. Even the very last day of your internship, when all of your projects are done and you’re just showing up for a farewell lunch? Yes. Be on time to your internship every single day. Punctuality shows an employer that you are reliable and that they can count on you to be in the office when they need you. And since you likely want your summer employer to either offer you a full-time job or serve as a fantastic reference for future applications, you definitely want that person to know they can count on you.

  2. Dress the Part. The transition from classroom casual (sweatpants and yesterday’s semi-clean t-shirt) to business casual (somewhat dressy clothing that is clean and ironed) can be a jarring one when first starting out. Dressing well for a position doesn’t stop after the interview (although check out this article for tips on proper interview dress and presentation). You need to dress professionally and appropriately every time you show up at the office. Don’t let the day that you go to work in ripped jeans and flip flops be the day that your supervisor calls in sick and asks you to deliver an important document to the director of the company. As a general rule, plan to overdress on your first day of work--that is, wear an outfit that you would wear to an interview. Take stock of how the other staff in the office dress, and then aim to dress slightly better than they do. Why? Because they already have full-time jobs. If you want to stand out as an intern, make sure you’re doing so on all fronts.

  3. Do your work. You may be thinking, “Well, what else would I do?”, but picture this: it’s 3:45 PM on a Friday afternoon in July. The weather outside is perfect: 85 degrees outside, with a sunny blue sky. Your roommate has already texted you twice to say that he is on his way to the beach/pool/your favorite coffee shop with an outdoor patio. You, however, have been pouring over a spreadsheet, analyzing data for the past three hours, and you have at least three more hours of this ahead of you before you’ll be done for the day. What do you do? Don’t leave the office! Unless you have express permission from your immediate supervisor, resist the urge to cut corners, fail to see projects through to completion or just flake out in general. It only takes one slip-up to make a bad impression on an employer. And while you may think that it’s “only” a summer internship, the connections you make at your internship can easily influence your next step. Which brings us to…

  4. Network. We know--you hate it. If you have to hear about the importance of networking one more time, you’re going to throw your laptop out the window. You don’t want to contact complete strangers, and you especially don’t want to become buddies with that weird guy down the hall who always wants to talk about his latest family vacation. Too bad. Networking--with your fellow interns, with other staff in your place of work, with alumni on the Alumni Careers Network (yes, that’s a shameless plug)--is crucial to your continued career development. Make an effort to get to know the people who work in your office. What do they do, where did they come from, and what advice do they have for a college student who wants to work in the same field they are in? Then, stay in touch. As you approach the end of your internship, ask your colleagues if you can take their business cards, and if you can be in touch in the future with questions about your resume and positions that might be a good fit for you. If you’ve made a really good impression, they may even contact you when positions open up that you might be interested in.

  5. Be a team player. In many job descriptions, after the listing of responsibilities and qualifications for the position, there is the caveat that reads something like “Other duties as assigned.” For a summer internship, these “other duties” can range from pitching in on a brainstorming session to taking out the trash. So go into your internship prepared to do just about anything. Don’t be intimidated if you’re asked to be part of a high-level project--they hired you for a reason, and they value your work. Likewise, don’t turn your nose up at menial, clerical or manual labor that you might be asked to do. Like it or not, you’re an intern, which means you’re at the bottom of the totem pole. If someone asks you to do something unappealing, do it well, and do it with a smile. Being willing to pitch in and help out at all times makes you stand out, and standing out (in a good way) is what you want at the end of the day.

  6. Stay late. We know. You’ve been at work since 8:30 AM. You had to get up at 6:00 AM and ride the subway for an hour and a half to get there. Now, it’s 5:00 PM and all the other interns are going to the bar downstairs for happy hour, but your supervisor needs help finishing up a last minute presentation. What do you? By now, we hope the answer is obvious—you stay late and help your supervisor. This goes back to being a team player. If there’s an opportunity to step up and help out, regardless of the time of day, take it.

  7. Watch your behavior (and your mouth) outside of the office. It’s 7:00 PM and you've finally finished the presentation you were slaving over all day. Luckily, all the other interns are still at the bar downstairs, three drinks in and SO excited that you finally made it. Here’s the moment of truth. Are you going to be able to resist the urge to immediately drink four drinks—just to catch up—and make a fool of yourself? There is a time and a place for revelry, but that time and place is not when you're with your co-workers (not even if they're fellow interns). This means no over-indulging when you’re at the office happy hour, no gossiping about other interns or co-workers, and, if you learn nothing else from this post, no posing for inappropriate photos that will inevitably end up on Facebook! Seriously, we promise you won’t think they’re nearly as funny five years from now, so just avoid embarrassment and swear off cameras when you’re out socializing.

For more tips about preparing for your internship and making the most of your summer, make an appointment with a CAPS staff member by calling (773) 702 – 7040.

Still looking for a summer internship? There still a variety of summer internships listed on Chicago Career Connection. Log on today to view your options, and then come to CAPS for help creating a targeted resume and cover letter.