How to Make the Most of an Internship

June 5, 2013

Summer is quickly approaching and that means graduation and intern season all across the United States. In June, millions of current students and recent graduates will commence their intern roles in government, not-for-profit organization, corporations, and many other entities. 

Some of these individuals participate in internship programs for academic credit as required by their program of study. Others are gaining professional experience to become more competitive in the job market upon graduation My reasons include financial resources to complete my academic studies, but I also knew that experience is very valuable and it is what sets you apart as millions of individuals graduates each year. 

In Washington D.C., the start of intern season is easy noticeable as thousands of young men and women flock to the area. Many head for Capitol Hill and other policy organizations. Wherever you end up, let me offer you my lessons learned.  As an intern, embrace and expand on 3 key steps: 

  1. Learn – you have two ears and one mouth for a reason, so be sure to hear what’s being said before you speak. Learn the background of your supervisors, colleagues, and peers, and look for ways to build relationships, gain trust, and understand the office environment. Observe the dynamic, players, politics, procedures, policies at your office, as all of these will be important to you in your work.
  2. Contribute – be alert for opportunities to take initiatives, support colleagues, and showcase your talent (including in training, teaching, and developing toolsets)
  3. Network – communicate your satisfaction or dissatisfactions, intend on staying past the end of the program, introduce yourself to other departments, and try to attend industry and non-industry events.

 

If you haven’t secured your internship for this summer, don’t worry, as there are plenty of opportunities. Simple keywords such as “internships”, “fellowship”, “co-op” and your city of choice entered into Google will yield the current options.  You can take a number of other steps right now though to get prepared: 

  • Start early – Secure an internship as soon as you can; if possible, after your freshman year in college. The more experience you have, the better position you’ll be in at graduation. Some students wait until their junior or senior year to begin an internship or forgo completing one, putting themselves at risk of not being competitive against their peers around the country.
  • Apply early – Some prestigious programs will post application deadlines as early as the November prior to the summer start date. The majority of employers announce their vacancies several months out, usually late winter/early spring.
  • Research – It’s important to do your homework on potential employers and how you can fit in their program. Some employers only hire interns at the end of their sophomore year. Others only hire rising seniors or recent graduates.
  • Skills Development – Work on your skills pertaining to professional development, such as writing, communication, social media, the Microsoft Office suite, job-specific software programs, and others. Make your skills indispensible to potential employers.
  • Network – Have you ever heard the expression, “It’s not what you know, but who you know”?  This expression is often true. Begin to meet people at briefing, meetings, events, conferences, and elsewhere. Express your desire to secure an internship in whatever field you are interested. You’ll be surprise how many people want to help. Be sure to have a business card and conduct yourself in a professional manner. Follow-up with an “ask.” It can be for coffee or lunch, or perhaps to put you in touch with someone in their network. 

 

Professional Development 

  • Work ethics – be on time, reliable, responsible, a team player, and take initiative.
  • Writing – work on your writing skills by first improving your academic work. Encourage substantive feedback from your professors. Learn how to adapt your writing to different audiences and be open to constructive criticism.
  • Interpersonal communication – understand personalities, be sensitive to cultural differences, and embrace similarities.
  • Strengthen the weaknesses – look for ways to improve skills that you deem to be weakness through formal and informal classes, workshops, and activities.
  • Network – build your personal brand by introducing yourself to individuals in industry-specific circles. Learn the players and agendas of the “who’s-who” in the area.
  • Social Media – avoid wasting time and discussing work-related issues on social media platforms that can harm your image or reputation.

 

Finally, you can avoid some the mistakes from past interns by reading this blog

My Story 

As a humble kid from Chicago, Illinois, I outlined my multi-year plan to develop my academic knowledge, gain professional experience, practice leadership, and build networks. After finishing high school, I got to attend Northeastern Illinois University, George Washington University, and Carnegie Mellon University. Since the beginning, I was elected to student government, serving as student trustee, student government president, and vice president for external affairs. I secured an internship with a not-for-profit organization in the second semester of college, where I worked year-round for two-plus years. As an intern, I started in the administrative and purchasing department and finished in the human resources department. As a junior in college, I was offered a full-time job with a corporation where I worked while going to school late afternoons, evenings, and even weekends. After that, I completed a summer fellowship that offered financial resources for my graduate school studies. As a graduate student, I worked at a not-for-profit in Pittsburgh and a business federation in Washington, D.C. My to-date experience includes working for not-for-profit organization, corporations, and governmental offices.

The Last Post 

This is my last blog post, as I just completed my public policy graduate studies at Carnegie Mellon University. I have been at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation since August 2012, where as an intern I have learned about a variety of policies affecting the business community, including emerging issues and opportunities in the fields of big data and space exploration. It has been a pleasure to work with such as talented individuals at the Foundation and in other departments. I hope to continue to support their work in another capacity in the future.