How to Maximize Your Internship

How to Start a New Internship and Leave Known as 'The Super Intern'

There is one killer secret ingredient to a successful internship (and you won't find it on a coffee run).

If you asked colleagues from my first-ever internship about me, they would probably describe me as “that quiet, nervous girl,” or simply have no recollection of me at all.

Worried about stepping on toes or committing some grievous error, I spent the majority of my time at my newspaper internship huddled over my desk, stressed out and trying my best to remain invisible.

In the end, I had a nice portfolio that helped pave the way for even better opportunities, but I was left with little in the way of professional contacts. I quickly learned the cold hard truth behind that little phrase “it’s who you know.”

Building professional relationships is a critical step to advancing your career, as well as the secret ingredient to a super successful internship.

Building professional relationships is a critical step to advancing your career, as well as the secret ingredient to a super successful internship.

If that sounds terrifying, read on for a few painless ways to give it a shot.

DO IT WRITE

Starting an internship without a game plan is like hopping in your car for a road trip and leaving the map behind (er—switching off the GPS).

To plan your route to success, grab a notebook and carve out some time to make a list of goals you would like to accomplish during your internship. Be specific and realistic.

Then, track your progress throughout your internship, taking note of your successes, compliments received, and even failures. Rereading your original goals every week or so can also serve as a compass if you feel like you’ve strayed into the land of “I Don’t Know What The Hell I’m Doing” (which is oft-visited during most internships).

LEND A HAND

While taking a colleague out to coffee or lunch is a great relationship-building practice, simple schmoozing can only go so far. Offering your assistance to co-workers, on the other hand, is one of the best, mutually beneficial ways to network.

Do they need an extra pair of hands/eyes/ears? I once volunteered to let a photographer snap photos of me in the dark with glow sticks taped to my (clothed) body when he needed a model. Did I feel ridiculous? You bet. But did I earn bonus points with everyone on the team? Definitely. 

And if this person offers to teach you a new skill—anything at all—jump on that train like there is no tomorrow. Always. Say. Yes. Even tasks you have little experience or interest in now can be very useful down the line. I still kick myself for not taking a co-worker up on his offer to teach me about video editing—a skill I am now paying to learn through online courses.  

STAY ON THEIR RADAR

Diligently doing your work while avoiding all human contact is a sure-fire way to become completely forgettable. When requesting a letter of recommendation months later, will the head honcho only recall a big question mark instead of your smiling face?

Half the battle is getting noticed—and not by microwaving your leftover salmon in the office lunchroom (not that I did that or anything). Chat up colleagues. Do those little house-cleaning tasks everyone else avoids. Bravely ask your supervisor for constructive criticism—and be prepared to take it.

Half the battle is getting noticed. Chat up colleagues. Do those little house-cleaning tasks everyone else avoids. Bravely ask your supervisor for constructive criticism—and be prepared to take it.

Fighting complacency (and invisibility) and stepping out of your comfort zone are key ways to grow and build relationships. {click to tweet}

SNAG A MENTOR

Having a mentor during the length of your internship is invaluable. This person can be one of your most important advocates, offering advice and job leads years later.

Not only can you ask them those questions you’re too scared to ask anyone else, but this is someone you can observe as they do their everyday job. I probably learned more about interview techniques by sitting next to my mentor and listening to him sling questions at people over the phone than I did in my introductory reporting class.

If a mentor-mentee relationship doesn’t develop organically, don’t be shy about approaching your internship coordinator or supervisor and asking them about the possibility of being paired with someone.

PLAY NICELY WITH OTHERS

Here’s a little bit of real talk: There will always be someone better than you (um, unless your name is Taylor Swift). Instead of beating yourself up for perceived inadequacies, try making a few new friends—specifically with those who are a step ahead. {click to tweet} Not only does this give you a support group, but it squelches the nasty jealousy and unhealthy competition that can fester during these types of programs.

Don’t wait to be approached, but instead organize a group get-together, which will set a tone of camaraderie for the length of the program. 

Another perk of befriending fellow interns is the potential to develop lasting friendships with people in your field of interest. I still chat and meet up with intern friends I made over five years ago! Several of them work for high-profile media companies and have fantastic stories and valuable advice.

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I learned a great deal from that first internship, but perhaps one of the most important lessons gleaned was that putting effort into building professional relationships is just as crucial as the actual internship work itself.

Now that you’re armed with some tactics on how to transform yourself into a networking guru, ditch that trepidation and start getting chatty. You might be surprised by how easy it really is. 

Need some more tips about your upcoming internship? Hit us up in the comments below.