If anyone knows that unpaid internships can be a serious drag, it’s me. As a college student I commuted four hours a day three times a week to intern – I was actually sort of paying to work if you really think about it and factor in transportation costs and such. It was easy to lose sight of the fact that interning would pay off in the long run, but if you do it right and maximize the opportunities given to you as an intern, you can really put yourself on a great career path. Case in point: One of my college internships was here at College Candy and now here I am, making a living by writing about things like terrible TV shows and uncomfortable shoes. It’s a dream come true!
I wish I had known that there are ways to make your internship super valuable when I was a college student – and because I want you guys to have the best experiences possible, I’m going to share a few tips here.
1. Don’t overload yourself
If you’re trying to juggle an internship, a full load of classes and part-time job, chances are your work at the internship will suffer. Because I was always trying to rush out to catch my bus from New York to Philly so I could get home to finish my schoolwork and get to bed, I was never able to stay late or go to events. I was running on three or four hours of sleep a night and it showed. If it’s possible for you to intern while taking just one class or a few shifts at a part-time job, keep it to that. You want to appear energetic and enthusiastic and it’s definitely hard to do that while juggling too many responsibilities.
2. If you have questions, ask them
Don’t try to figure something out if you genuinely have no idea what you’re doing. One of the other interns may be able to clue you in but sometimes you’ll have to ask your supervisor for a bit of guidance. It may be a bit awkward to ask and you may feel silly admitting you don’t understand something but the quality of your work will suffer if you don’t know what you’re doing. Save yourself the time and stress and just ask if you need to.
3. Try to get into a few meetings
I’ve found that sitting on a staff meeting teaches you so much about the industry and company. Ask your direct supervisor if you can go to any meetings. Even if you’re not allowed, asking and expressing interest in doing something that’s not in your official job description will make you seem curious and committed.
4. Make connections
Ask your supervisor if the two of you can sit down for a quick cup of coffee sometime so you can get to know each other a bit. Asking how they landed the job, if there’s anything additional you can do around the office and if they have any advice for you is a great way to establish a connection. You’ll definitely be more memorable if you can get a bit of out-of-office face time. You should also set a time for you and the other interns to hang out outside of the office. You may end up hitting one of them up for a job in the future! If nothing else, you’ll make awesome new friends.
5. Stay in touch
Write a thank you note to anyone who taught you something or gave you a chance to do something cool. It sounds a little weird – I mean, you’re thanking someone for allowing you to work for free – but it will help you keep the lines of communication open. Once you’ve completed your internship, check in periodically to tell your old coworkers what you’re up to and don’t be afraid to ask them for advice once your internship is over. Who knows? They may end up referring you to your next job.
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