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Tips for a successful internship
February 6, 2009 at 1:57 pm

Unlike Rachel, I didn't have an internship in college — or even after college, for that matter. My school didn't require it, and because I planned to go to graduate school and study literature, I'm pretty sure I thought college was enough of an internship for that. But I do have some experience with internships, because I had the privilege of supervising interns at my first job.

I was an entry-level staff assistant for then-Senator Tom Daschle Click here to learn about third-party website links in Washington, D.C. (and yes, I'm still in mourning that he won't be Secretary of Health and Human Services). No one was lower on the totem pole than me, except the interns (and maybe the pages Click here to learn about third-party website links), so I relished the opportunity to help direct their work.

Based on my own knowledge of working with interns, here are five tips for making the most of your internship:

  1. Soak it all in. Most of the interns in my Senate office were still in college, spending a semester in our nation's capitol getting work experience and college credit. But even if you aren't interning in a glamorous location, it's still your chance to see how things work in the real world. Eventually, you're going to need to know the essentials: how phone and computer systems operate, what is (and isn't) appropriate work attire, and how to deal with office politics. Now's you're opportunity to learn.
  2. Have realistic expectations. Yes, you're going to be answering phones, opening mail, and running errands. No, you're not going to be making policy decisions, speaking to the press, and meeting with the White HouseClick here to learn about third-party website links Nonetheless, the work is important and needs to get done. Have a positive attitude about what you ARE accomplishing — it takes far less energy than focusing on what you don't get to do.
  3. Teach as much as you learn. Since you're a student (or perhaps a recent grad), you most likely have been exposed to new research or practices that could be useful to your internship provider. Plus, you probably have some technology skills to share. Offer these up — when you're seen as a resource, you might have a better chance of getting hired on once your internship is over.
  4. Take advantage of any "intern perks." All of the interns in my office had the opportunity to shadow the Senator for a day, usually including time on the Senate floor and lunch in the exclusive Senate dining roomClick here to learn about third-party website links Not even the permanent staffers got to do that! Ask your intern supervisor if a similar program exists where you are, perhaps with the CEO. If it doesn't exist, suggest it.
  5. Make a connection. The experience you're gaining is important, but the relationships you're developing are even more so. Seek out a mentor — it doesn't have to be your intern supervisor. Find someone with whom you have common interests or work styles, and ask to collaborate on a project. Down the road, he or she could provide a reference letter, be a contact for future job prospects, or even end up as a lifelong friend.

What success stories do you have from your own internship experiences? Share with us here!


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