Finding an internship can be a stressful experience for most students – you’ve done the research, (hopefully) visited the Toppel Career Center for guidance, and then you got down to work. You sent the applications, perfected your personal statements, got your recommendation letters, learned the difference between an official and an unofficial transcript, and now you wait. You only need one email notification to come in to change the course of your summer.
After patiently waiting and wading through rejections and non-responsive organizations, the email you have been waiting for arrives: You get to join the ranks of the “interns”!
Often just landing the internship experience you have spent months worrying about feels like a huge victory at the finish line. What comes next? How do you maximize on your opportunity once you land your internship?
The value of interning often is in the opportunity the position provides to you, not necessarily the day-to-day.
Speaking to some of my past students who were Capitol Hill interns, they went through an entire spectrum of emotions through their first two weeks interning.
They started out on cloud 9, and were absolutely elated that during their time in DC they would be interning on the Hill, ready to wear their fancy new suits and take in the political process.
After spending a few days learning the in’s and out’s of their offices, speaking to constituent callers on the phone, memorizing their facts for the daily Capitol tours they would host, and grabbing coffee for the senior team, their excitement began to fade.
They would file in and out of my office, completely deflated that we had built up the idea of their internship as something glamorous and movie-worthy, and they were totally disengaged from the process. Speaking with them prompted me to reflect on my experiences interning as a student, and what really made the difference between going through the motions, and capitalizing on the opportunity in front of me.
Looking back, I initially remember only the good things – the time I got to speak on the Floor of the House of Representatives, spending 4th of July with veterans who had just returned from Iraq, and introducing both Colin Powell and Howard Dean in the same week. Just those fancy experiences validated that my internship was “worth” something.
While those are cool anecdotes to share, they represent mere hours of an intense 12-week internship program, and did not really provide me with the lasting tools I would need to propel myself to graduate school and in my career – those opportunities were hidden in the mundane, day-to-day tasks of my internship, and this was the message I tried to deliver to my disgruntled interns.
Make the most of the opportunity: Internships are competitive, so you should take pride in every aspect of what you are doing, because whether you are rubbing shoulders with executives or making coffee, the opportunity to carry out these tasks was given to you over someone else, and we all have to pay our dues no matter the industry.
It has been my experience that if you have a positive attitude and apply your dedication to every task given to you, you will most certainly stand out in the eyes of your supervisors. This is key, because you want them to think of you the next time a high-profile project comes in that they will need help with, because this is only another opportunity to prove yourself.
Honestly, you get what you give, and if you want to make the most out of your internship, you will leave with lasting relationships that can continue to help you down the road. Make a connection with everyone you meet, and take advantage of LinkedIn; send people an email after you meet them and see if they would be willing to meet you for a quick coffee one day. Ask questions to those who are successful around you so that you can better understand what it is you need to do on your own path. Networking and relationship building are key to being able to maximize on your time as an intern. The simple act of taking the initiative during your internship can make the difference between being a summer intern, and utilizing your internship as a stepping stone to a full-time position.
You want to be able to leave your internship experience having left a positive impression in your office of who you are and what your contributions were, so that you can continue that relationship when you return to campus, and hopefully lean on that supervisor for a recommendation or reference down the road.