Are you thinking of doing an internship, either during or after your degree? Or perhaps you already have one lined up? Here are some recommendations for making the most of your time as an intern.
1. Get paid
A respectable organisation offering internships will pay its interns. The wages won’t necessarily be great, but they should be at least the minimum wage plus expenses.
Companies in some industries do try to exploit interns by pointing out that many people are willing to work for free to ‘gain valuable experience’. Fashion and publishing have particularly poor reputations for this. Depending on circumstances, this may be illegal. If you do think about working as an unpaid intern, read http://www.theguardian.com/money/2010/jul/24/fashion-industry-interns before you choose whether or not to accept this ‘opportunity’.
2. Get a proper job title
Sooner or later you will want to put the internship on a CV. So think about how the title will read to a potential employer. You don’t need to rewrite ‘tea boy’ as ‘gender-neutral beverage production & delivery facilitator’, but if you are doing research, do call yourself a researcher. If you are doing marketing, call yourself a marketing assistant - or marketing executive if you can. Almost any job title has more professional credibility than ‘intern’.
3. Get some business cards
If you are meeting people outside the organization – and if your internship is any good, you really should be – having business cards improves your professional credibility. The cost is small, and the employer ought to cover it. Let them know that you want to represent the organisation in a professional way.
4. Be professional
Use professional standards of dress and language. Note the ‘dress code’ in the organization. Do fit in with the dark suits of the accountancy firm or the creative style of the advertising agency. You will be taken more seriously if you ‘fit in’.
5. Get a ‘project’
It helps if you can have a defined ‘project’ during the internship rather than just helping out with general tasks. This may not always be possible, but if you can have a project which is ‘yours’ (perhaps shared with other interns or full-time staff), it makes it easier to demonstrate your value to the employer.
How are you going to answer that interview question ‘What value did you add to the employer during your internship’? ‘Well, I helped around a bit’ or ‘I completed project X’.
6. Go to meetings and events
Your internship should give you the opportunity to attend various meetings within your own organization and external business events. As the new person, you won’t always be told about these, so do demonstrate enthusiasm and let colleagues know that you are keen to go. External business events can often be identified with a bit of googling. And almost all business events will welcome keen newcomers.
If you have one-to-one meetings with senior managers, do plan for them. They are likely to ask you how things are going – so have two or three key points prepared in reply. And this is a good chance to ask them for information and advice on anything you would like to know about the employer or the business sector in general.
7. Make some contacts
Use these events to make contacts, not just in your own organisation but with suppliers, customers and others. Use your business cards (see above), and do send short follow-up emails to anyone you meet at an event. That contact may be a future employer, colleague, or perhaps a research sponsor.
8. Beware of social media
Embarrassing your employer or an individual manager isn’t going to help your reputation. So if you hear, or experience, some amusing stories of incompetence or nasty politics in your host organisation, social media is not a good place to share them.
9. Note learning points
Some people keep ‘learning journals’, making entries every two or three days. You don’t need to do this, but making a quick note of key points every now and then can help when preparing a CV the following year. Think of it as a first step in your professional development plan (see link below).
10. Ask people if they will be willing to act as referees
Your university tutors may well be your first-choice referees. But many jobs now ask for three referees, and a reference from an employer will add weight to an academic reference.