Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Internship advice

I'm going to do a few posts to provide advice for interns. I really struggled when I first got my internship with all sorts of questions. This is certainly natural: most minimum wage jobs and academic settings are a completely different work paradigm than an office job or internship.

These posts will provide some basic advice for interns, from starting out to finishing up.

These are a few key approaches to be an amazing intern.

Attitude: Interview

Your internship is really just a very long interview. Receiving an internship is just getting your foot in the door; you still have to continue to be an amazing potential employee. You haven't made it in yet. While you should be proud of landing the internship, you should realize that this is just the first step to making a good impression at the company and with your supervisor. Even if it seems that you will be likely give the job, look further: you can still see this as an interview for the next job that you apply for or the promotion that you will want.

Much like an interview, every day you should be on your best behavior, looking out for pitfalls and opportunities.

Thank you letters

Gratitude is an amazing thing to demonstrate. People are always happy to help someone who take the time to pat them on the back and return that help. Especially in well established companies and those jobs that gave you your first experience, gratitude for the opportunity to work is expected.

Write thank you letters for being interviewed, for recommendation letters, for being mentored, for the opportunity to work. If you can, give back some sort of value to the person who helped you. This could be sharing a bright idea that they inspired, pointing out an opportunity for funding, or offering to put them in contact with a professor at your school who you think they would get along with. They helped you so you should do your best to help them.

Don't discount what you can do to help them! These small acts coming from you now will signal how truly motivated you are and that you will be an important professional connection.

Thank you letters should be well written in content and put on nice stationary. An email will not cut it.

Proofread and Perfect

When you first get an assignment, ask questions about it. Try and get a sense not only of what you are asked to do, but why and what your supervisor truly wants. Don't pretend like you know what you're doing. It's better to ask questions than make mistakes.

Here are some useful questions:

Basic details
  • Would you like this saved as a pdf or word document? 
  • Should I print this in color? 
  • Who should I copy on this email?
  • When do you want this by? 
Conceptual questions
  • What is the target audience of this project/publication?
  • What is the goal of this project/publication?
  • Do you have an previous examples?
  • How was this program developed?
  • What is the latest innovation for this program?

Work quickly and efficiently but make sure to keep up the quality of your work. Proof read everything you do. The best way I've found to proof read is to print out everything and read what I've written multiple times.

Share ideas and innovation

Having asked meaningful questions about the project, think about the project. How would you run this project? What could be added to the project? Where would there be problems?

Once you know what is wanted of you and what is being asked of you, do both and add your own spin to it. If you can, add some sort of innovation to the task. Are you making an event program from Word document? Make the program in Publisher; explain to your supervisor that it will be easier to print. Create several designs for the event program, designs that fit with the feeling the event is going for. Do everything you can to make a perfect product.

I also ask other coworkers to look things over or bounce ideas before speaking to my supervisor. This shows initiative and, when I credit the coworker for sharing their idea, humility and good teamwork.

The point

You are you. You can do a lot to become a better worker. But to be a truly excellent intern, you need to show yourself as an excellent worker and as someone who can add to the company.

What you add is about who you are.

If you're an amazing social butterfly and spend tons of hours running events for your sorority, take that to your job. Be Elle Woods. If you're a quiet dreamer with tons of ideas, work them over in your mind and then share them. Take your inspiration from the imagination and rectitude of Tesla.  If your social skills are so so, but you love the technical side of things find an office that understands this, find a task where you technical skills can shine as you work independently, find your niche.

You can't be happy constantly changing who you are; you can't be a good worker if you hide your best aspects.