Pursuing an Internship
There is great value to be found in pursuing internship opportunities at key stages of your academic program. Interning with seasoned professionals will help you get a real world sense of the demands and rewards of a work environment and is an important way to test and confirm your career goals. If you perform well in an internship, the people you meet and the work you accomplish can broaden your career opportunities.
The summers between your sophomore and senior years are considered an ideal time to complete an internship. Internships can be paid or unpaid, part-time or full-time, during the academic year or during the summer, credit or non-credit. There are local internships and others that require travel and accommodations. Research all you can about each opportunity and always consult with your academic advisor, faculty advisor and career planning resources on campus to help clarify your interests and goals.
You’ll need to plan ahead in order to apply for an internship. You may be asked to write an essay, submit transcripts or academic standing verification, a resume and/or letters of recommendation. You may be required to have certain skills or completed specific coursework or have a declared major in a particular area. Follow instructions very carefully and pay close attention to deadlines. Internships in areas that are in high demand tend to have early application deadlines.
Accepting an internship is a serious commitment. Businesses and organizations that sponsor interns expect a professional attitude and productive work habits. Be sure you’re ready and willing to make that commitment.
The best way to begin exploring the prospect of an internship is to find the appropriate office on campus or reliable website directories for the kinds of internships that are available to you. There may be a campus workshop offered to explain the process and offer tips about how to put together the best application. Ask questions and discuss your decision with an advisor to determine that this is the right path for you.
Attending career fairs is also another option to learn about internship opportunities and meet recruiters. Some firms actively recruit summer interns at campus fairs or through your campus career planning office. There are also other resources such as INROADS - http://www.inroads.org/ - to assist you in your search.
What kind of experience are you seeking? What kinds of skills would you like to improve? What kinds of skills does the internship require? Work through these sorts of questions before you decide to apply. If you decide to pursue an internship or research placement, get reliable advice about how to develop a strong application.
The Professional Work Environment
Embarking on an internship gives you the chance to experience a professional work environment, one where you’ll be expected to be open to all work assignments and contribute your best. Some of the potential opportunities for growth in an internship include:
- establishing a strong work ethic
- improving verbal communication skills, written communication skills, quantitative skills and/or analytical and problem-solving skills
- gaining knowledge about how best to work in teams
- dealing with the pressures of meeting tight deadlines
- observing leadership in action
Employers are looking for interns who have a positive attitude and who are motivated and willing to do more than is expected. Interns must be able to work independently as well as have the ability to function as part of a team. Once you have been accepted to an internship, learn all you can about the culture of the workplace before you arrive for your first day of work so you can begin to meet expectations at the outset. Here are some basic questions you should be able to answer:
- What is the mission of the workplace?
- What are the goals of your internship?
- Is there a culture of teamwork?
- What is the dress code?
- Who will be your supervisor?
- How many hours are expected of you?
- What are your work hours?
- What is the protocol for taking time off if necessary?
Successful internships depend on many things in addition to specific skills required in the field. Among the most important are the expressed expectations of both the intern and the employer, ongoing communication, organization and time management skills.
Be sure there is clear communication about your role, responsibilities and expectations. Both you and your supervisor should be in clear agreement on all objectives, goals and methods you’ll use to accomplish your work and measure your success.
- Be punctual and ready to work every day
- Maintain a positive and professional attitude
- Be sensitive to how people interact
- Be aware of workplace rules and management hierarchy
- Show interest and enthusiasm in your work
- Be sure you understand your assignments
- Have confidence in your abilities but ask questions whenever you need clarification and seek guidance whenever you need help
- Communicate progress of work activities when appropriate
- Complete all work assignments on time
- Follow up on all your work
- Be open to advice and constructive criticism
- Seek out challenging opportunities and take initiative
- Learn from mistakes and move on
Completing an Internship
As you near the end of your internship assignment, ask your supervisor for an exit interview. This is the best opportunity to get a performance evaluation and other important feedback to earn about your strengths, accomplishments and areas for improvement. Explore the possibility of obtaining a good letter of recommendation from those with whom you’ve had a supportive and productive relationship. Ask about next steps for career development and ways to stay involved with the profession to learn about new opportunities.
Remember to follow-up with thank you letters to everyone who helped you learn from the internship experience. Express clearly what you’ve learned and how they have helped you accomplish your goals. This sort of etiquette will help you continue to expand your professional network and provide a sense of satisfaction to all who contributed to your success.