Learn from Smart Women

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Despite having been out of college for a couple of years now, the internships I held while attending school in Boston were strongly formative and transformative in my succeeding career choices and passions. In my four years of college, I held five internships with various nonprofits in the Boston and Los Angeles areas. As a college student, I knew I was passionate about social activism, environmental justice, theatre, and educational equity.  Although I greatly valued and benefited from my college education and experience, I was also aware that the courses I was enrolled in would only teach me so much.  Without taking advantage of additional opportunities outside of the classroom, I would have to wait years to apply the knowledge and passion I was gaining and building from classes into the ‘real’ world beyond school.


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Attending college in the heart of a city had a plethora of advantages—one being that I had many organizations and companies in close proximity, which meant that I could search and apply for various internships.  That close proximity also allowed me to attend school while simultaneously being involved in a myriad of extracurricular activities and leadership opportunities.  Even when interning over the summer, like many college students are doing right now, I was able to take advantage of summer housing through my college, volunteer at various shelters and organizations in my spare time, continue to build my resume, and explore new areas of the city I was interning in.

Having said all this, I cannot stress enough how much more prepared I felt on my college graduation day for what laid before me in my young professional career because I had held the internships that I did. Not only did I feel academically prepared to start my corps member commitment with a national public service program and teach in a high-need school district, but I also felt professionally prepared to collaborate with new coworkers and professionals, delegate and handle a multitude of high-priority tasks, effectively manage a group of people (both younger than me, my age, and older), articulate myself in an empowered and dependable way, work hard toward a common goal, and confidently ask questions to improve my skills and performance.

If you are able to hold an internship during college or over the summers in between, I highly recommend applying and taking advantage of the opportunity. Each internship I held helped me develop integral and beneficial skills that I may not have been able to develop without the opportunity (or not until a later time in my young professional career). I learned how to assert myself as a young person in a sea of older professionals, navigate my way through the nonprofit sector, ask for help and additional information to better my internship performance and expand my knowledge, achieve goals I didn’t think I was capable of as a 19-22 year old, and maturely and responsibly carry myself through the professional world as a college student.

Among the various professional experiences and skills I learned and gained as an intern, I also learned what not to do as an intern;those are lessons that I wish I had in my back pocket before serving in my first internship position.  Although this list could be exhaustive, these ten suggestions are in my opinion—and of those of the young professionals I also consulted—the most important tips to keep in the forefront of your mind as you approach your internship.

1) Do not be afraid to ask questions or for feedback.  

Some of the best, most helpful, and most impressive interns are ones who continually make sure they are completing tasks correctly and efficiently, and routinely check in for feedback to improve their performance.

2) Do not expect each internship experience to be glamorous and don’t automatically feel entitled to the most exciting tasks.  

I remember seeing the instagrams of some of my fellow college peers who were interning on movie sets, magazine photo shoots, and in art galleries while I was running to FedEx to mail out a nonprofit’s recruitment materials to over 20 colleges in the northeast.  In most fields, interns or entry-level employees will be assigned administrative work and should expect to ‘pay their dues’ to some degree.  Obviously, you should still feel treated with respect, fairness, and equality as an intern, but the tasks you are given to complete may not be the most desirable.  However,they are still necessary and greatly helpful to your organization and/or company.

3) Do not let your employer take advantage of you.  

There is a difference between an internship and an unpaid staff position.  If you are going above and beyond your initial volunteer or intern agreement and feel you are working considerably more (or taking on tasks beyond that of an unpaid intern), you should be compensated in some way (salary, college credit, a stipend, etc.) for your hard work and significant dedication.

4) Do not show up late or take more than 1-2 days off (unless it’s an emergency).  

During my final internship in Boston as a senior, I was balancing way too much.  I was holding two internships, three regular jobs, college classes, a self-directed senior project, and two significant leadership opportunities on campus.  My immune system was weak, I was rarely sleeping and not catching up on that lost sleep (especially because one of my jobs had me working until 2 AM most weekend nights), and I was stretched thin preparing for my post-grad job.  With that said, there were many times I had to call in sick, come in late, or leave early from my internship. Although I gave that internship my all while I was there, I inconvenienced my supervisor and department coworkers because of my sick days and chaotic senior schedule.

5) Do not take a longer lunch break than you are given.  

I know most people don’t recommend working through your lunch (I am definitely guilty as charged in that area!), but I also don’t recommend the opposite either. You may be used to taking your time in your college’s dining hall, but don’t push your limits on your lunch break.  Take some time to recharge and then get back to work.

6) Even if you are already familiar with the organization/company, don’t assume you know how everything works.  

Yes, you are there to work and serve, but you are also there to learn and gain necessary skills that will propel you toward your desired career path.  Be humble and approach every task as a learning lesson and stepping stone.  Even if there is something you already know, you can use that opportunity to deepen your understanding and experience even more.

7) Do not complain. 

I want to put a disclaimer out there that if you do feel like you are being treated unjustly and unfairly in your internship experience, definitely feel empowered and supported enough to speak up and say your truth.  However, if you feel treated fairly in your internship experience and you just dislike a task or assignment given to you, do not complain.  Just like I tell the students I teach, in life there will always be things you do not want to do, but you will become a better and more humble person if you push through, give it your best, and do it anyway.

8) Do not treat your internship like summer camp.  

This is not a summer opportunity to make friends, have fun, party, and make memories.  Sure, having fun and enjoying your internship is important, as it may be the field you are interested in working in for the rest of your life, but don’t treat your internship unprofessionally.  You are there to work, learn, and develop new skills, build up your resume, become a more knowledgeable young professional, and prepare for your post-grad life.  If you want to have a blast at summer camp, then go to summer camp.

9) Do not pretend you have skills you do not.  

I know a lot of internships require college students and young professionals to know InDesign, Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, Final Cut Pro, and other advanced software programs.  If you do not know how to navigate these programs but are expected to in your internship, do not lie and tell your supervisor you do.  Be honest, then learn fast, take initiative, and seek help and assistance.

10) Do not create your own silo.  

You are not your own island.  Take advantage of the department(s) of professionals at your fingertips and network daily.  You never know which one of your coworkers may help you connect to a future job in that company/organization or another.  Collaborate and connect with as many professionals as you can in your short time as an intern and do not isolate yourself just because you may not technically be a part of their paid staff.


Collaborate and connect with as many professionals as you can in your short time as an intern and do not isolate yourself.


Sure, you can spend your summer lounging by the pool, reading magazines, and spending time with friends, but you can also do those things and celebrate your summer after a 9-5 internship.  I do not regret any of the internship positions I held and I am proud to have them displayed on my resume and LinkedIn profile. I worked hard in each one I held, pushed myself outside of my comfort zone, learned a multitude of new skills that have helped me tremendously in my post-grad job and beyond, and connected me with inspiring professionals who I am still in contact with today.  Just keep these tips in mind and you will not only survive your summer internship, but you will thrive!


Dylan Manderlink is a 20-something first grade teacher in southeastern Utah who is passionate about social justice, the arts, education, environmental preservation, and feminism.  She is a graduate of Emerson College and studied a self-designed major, Investigative Theatre for Social Change.  Following graduation, she moved to rural Arkansas to teach high school through the national public service program, Teach for America.


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