For many students, an internship is an eagerly anticipated—or perhaps required—part of the college experience. An internship gives you a chance to put what you’ve learned in school to work in the “real world,” surrounds you with the opportunity to meet (and be mentored by) experienced people in your selected field, and helps confirm whether or not a certain career choice or job setting is the right one. For these reasons, it’s important to take your internship seriously, and endeavor to get as much out of it as you possibly can.

In 100% Job Search Success, Second Edition, authors Amy Solomon, Gwenn Wilson, Lori Tyler, and Terry Taylor offer a wealth of wisdom about making the most of an internship experience. The key principles include the following:

  • Know what’s expected of you. Be sure you know and understand your internship site’s policies, processes, and requirements. Also be sure you know what your school requires as part of the process – there may be forms or projects to complete, timelines to follow, and academic standards to uphold.
  • Familiarize yourself with the organization. What’s the organization’s history? Will you be working with a particular set of clients, contacts, or colleagues? Is there a dress code? The more you’re able to learn beforehand, the more comfortable you will feel when you arrive, and the more prepared you will be in the eyes of those with whom you’ll be working.
  • Commit to the internship as you would to any job. Develop—and use—professional behaviors at all times. The skills you learn and the networks you develop will prove beneficial as you progress through your career.
  • Get involved and engaged. Be ready and willing to learn, express your interest in the organization’s activities, and demonstrate that interest by contributing to and taking part in the opportunities that are available to you.
  • Be proactive and responsible. Seek out opportunities for learning, contribution, and professional development. Be willing to “own” and be accountable for your work.
  • Stay connected with your supervisor. Discuss your progress on a regular basis, and ask for clarification when it is needed. Also, allow your supervisor’s feedback to shape or improve your performance, and be sure to alert him or her to any concerns or challenges that may arise.
  • Think critically and analytically. Remain objective and data-focused in your approach to projects, issues, decisions, and challenges. Don’t allow biases, emotions, or preconceived notions to get in the way.
  • Know your limitations, as well as the role’s boundaries. If you have a gap in your knowledge or understanding, seek out the information or skills you need in order to accomplish your assigned tasks. And, if you are not allowed to complete a particular function because you lack the training, expertise, or proper licensure, respect those boundaries as well, as they may be established for legal, safety, or other business reasons.
  • Act professionally and respectfully. Let personal values and professional standards guide your choices and actions. If your field follows a particular code of ethics, be sure to remain mindful of those as well.
  • Participate. Be collegial, be active, and develop solid work relationships. You don’t need to participate in everything, but do choose activities that relate to your personal and professional interests and help others recognize your contributions in a positive light.
  • Last but not least… leave a mark! By creating work products (such as brochures, presentations, or research projects), you can ensure that your contributions can be demonstrated and your time well spent. These can also be listed on your résumé! (pp. 39-42)

Content adapted from Solomon, Amy, Wilson, Gwenn, Tyler, Lori, and Taylor, Terry. 2012. 100% Job Search Success, 2nd Ed. Boston: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.

Starting off on a job search, or seeking to hone your professional skills? Read additional Cengage Learning Blog posts featuring career tips.

Students: have you completed an internship? Instructors: have you served as a faculty advisor or internship supervisor? What advice would you give to students starting down this path? Share your suggestions below.