Great news! You’ve managed to secure an internship and your campaign to secure a graduate job is now well underway. But don’t get complacent. An internship looks great on your CV, but appearance will only get you so far. You need to make the experience count. And here’s how….
Set clear objectives
Think of your internship – or work placement – as a mini project. Try to define some clear goals and outcomes beforehand and discuss with your mentor when you start. This will help you focus your time and energy, and also demonstrate your commitment and motivation. A win-win! If you have a clear sense of career direction, you’ll be in a stronger position to set more precise, defined objectives to help consolidate your knowledge and understanding. Perhaps you want to know more about particular service lines or how to manage key clients? Don’t worry if you’re still weighing up your options and using the experience to inform your career choice – this, in itself, is an objective. Make it your business to find out as much as you can and talk to everyone who crosses your path.
Get stuck in
Employers are not there to grant favours; it’s up to you to make the most of your time and go all out to impress. Be proactive and if opportunities don’t come your way, try and create them. Whether you’re on a structured programme with a large group of interns, or operating as a lone ranger in an SME you need to be proactive. If you haven’t got enough work and feel you are treading water, then ask for more. Keep your eyes and ears open and observe what’s going on around you – use your initiative. Maybe you’ve got a particular skill that would prove useful to an ongoing project or task, if so let your employer know. Don’t assume you are above certain tasks: you might just learn something valuable. A surprising number of graduates have only a passing familiarity with Excel, so if you’re asked to create and update some spread sheets, it might be worth your while to say yes.
Listen and learn
You’ll often read or hear well intentioned advice telling you to network, network, network. And you should – building a professional network is critical to your future career success. Just don’t overlook the most important step – listening. Talk to people you meet, and really listen to what they say. If you feel uncomfortable initiating conversation, spend the first week or so quietly observing and make a mental note of key prompts or questions to ask when you’re feeling more confident. Take every opportunity to attend meetings, seminars and events to both consolidate your knowledge and benefit from the wisdom and experience of more senior colleagues.People are often too willing to share their advice and insights. Just don’t make a nuisance of yourself – know when to approach and when to withdraw.
Follow professional etiquette
There are a few basic rules to follow: be polite, respectful and courteous. And don’t badmouth anybody – from cleaner to CEO. Resist the temptation to compulsively check your phone (you’re not that important) and keep personal phone calls to a minimum. You’re trying to project a professional image, so manage your behaviour accordingly. Dress smartly, keep focussed and try to mirror the office culture. If you’re not sure, take your cue from more senior colleagues
Ask for feedback
You may find that you’re given a fair degree of responsibility and autonomy during your internship; companies use internships as a talent pipeline for their graduate programmes, so they will have high expectations. But this doesn’t mean sink or swim. Part of your growth as an intern – and fledgling professional – is taking a reflective and evaluative approach to your work.
Have the courage to ask for feedback and check in with your supervisor or mentor on a regular basis. Use these meetings to discuss your career aspirations and affirm your placement objectives. Recruiters are looking for graduates with an agile mindset, dynamic approach and career motivation, so take every opportunity to show them. Don’t be afraid to ask questions: you’re not expected to know it all. It’s much safer to accept your limitations, than forge ahead and risk making big mistakes. Know what you don’t know!
If you’re invited to social events, then go. You might be more of a wallflower than social butterfly but now is the time to step outside of your comfort zone. Try saying ‘yes’ rather than ‘ no’ and keep an open mind. In some ways, work has started to encroach into the social space and in certain sectors, after hours socialising is the norm. If you prefer to keep your evenings off limits, then make the most of lunchtimes and coffee breaks instead.
And finally: Remember your internship is not an end in itself. Once you’ve finished your placement take time to reflect on the skills gained, the knowledge acquired and the contacts made and think how you will use this to your career advantage.