Summer.  ‘Tis the season for beach vacations, barbeques and offices to be filled with fresh, eager faces. Yep, I’m talking about interns.

Interning has almost become its own rite of passage.  You put in your time, paid or unpaid, you staple 400 papers together, you spend hours by the printer, you spill coffee on more than one new H&M skirt trying to juggle 13 orders of mochaccinos - decaf, non-fat - (You’ve Got Mail anyone?) and all this without the promise of a job.

Why intern?

I struggled with this question after graduating.  Are they really necessary?  Can they teach you anything?  The answer is a huge yes.  An internship is a phenomenal way to learn, connect and grow as a professional and a person.  But there are ways to get the most out of your internship and make this experience one that will influence the rest of your career path.


Below are my tips for making the most of your summer internship:

1) Have a positive attitude

Almost straight out of college, I interned for a corporate cosmetics company in New York City.  On the last day of my internship, my supervisors took me out for lunch, and told me that the thing that impressed them the most was my positivity and general pleasant disposition.  While I had looked at this as simply 'being a nice person,' they confirmed that positivity can be a rare gem in an office, especially in certain industries. Don’t overestimate the power of always greeting the receptionist with a smile, speaking well of others in the office, and maintaining general friendliness with everyone in the office.

2) Know what you want to get out of your internship

If it’s a new skill you want to learn, use your assigned projects to develop that skill.  If it’s a dream job, find out the steps to get there.  If it’s connections, ask your supervisor if he or she will have lunch or coffee with you.  Interns are the go-to individual for odd office jobs, errands and small side projects.  A lot of internships are what you make of them.  Don’t come away from 3 months of dull office jobs on your resume.  Know one skill that you can say you gained months of experience in, or one program that you really adopted as your own.  Be intentional about the opportunity.

3) Become best friends with everyone in the office

Ok, best friends might be an extreme statement, but having a friendly rapport with office employees might be the best tip to take away. These people are not only your best advocates and chances of landing a job in the office, if that’s your desire, but they are also an amazing resource for future opportunities.  I’m still in touch with supervisors and staff from previous internships and can wholeheartedly vouch for this - whether you need a reference for a future opportunity, want to recommend a friend for an internship, or just need solid career advice, establishing a good relationship with people in the office will go far.

Be intentional about the opportunity

4) Ask questions

At their heart, internships are learning opportunities. 4.0 GPA or not, nothing can replace real life working experience.  You don’t know everything (and that’s ok!). Take advantage of learning from people who have more knowledge and experience in the industry than you.  Oftentimes, people are more than happy to share their expertise.

5) Dress appropriately

Whether or not we like or choose to view the world as superficial, what you put on says a great deal about who you are, your personality and even your work ethic. Don’t make guesses about what is appropriate.  Ask your supervisor on your first day, and continue to take clues from what other staff members in the office are wearing. Most don’t require a suit & tie, but remember that as an intern you want to be put your best foot, or shoe, forward.  Two weeks into an internship I had at a New York non-profit, my supervisor took me out to lunch for a review, and shared that she was relieved that she didn’t have to tell me what to wear, and this made her realize that I was serious about being there. It’s a sign of maturity to know that an office is not the place to make statements about your body, your 'rebel' side (or any other 'side') through your clothing.

Finally, have fun with it!  Internships are great opportunities to establish connections, get to know an office culture, and understand the ins and outs of a company. And expect to spill coffee, at least once.


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