Across the country, thousands of college students are preparing to start summer internships, which are a crucial way to get experience before graduation. But simply having an internship isn't enough; you also need to impress your employer, form solid relationships with your co-workers, and pay attention to what's happening around you.
Here are eight tips for getting the most out of interning:
1. Figure out what you want to learn from the experience. Are you trying to figure out if you want to work in this field after graduation? Hoping to pick up a particular skill? Trying to get accomplishments that you can add to your resume? Being clear in your head from the start about what you want to get from the experience can help ensure that you get it, whatever it is.
2. Don't segregate yourself with other interns. Get to know other workers too, including those who are older and more experienced. While you might prefer your own peer group for happy hours, co-workers who are a decade or more older than you are often better positioned to help with your career, whether it's giving you advice or helping you connect to your next job.
3. Take your work seriously. In school, if you made a mistake on a test or paper, it only affected you. But at most jobs, mistakes are much more serious. If you make a mistake, don't minimize it. Instead, take responsibility for it, figure out how you're going to fix it, and make it clear that you understand its seriousness.
4. Pay attention to how things work around you. Pay attention even to things that don't directly involve you—like meetings that would otherwise be boring—and absorb all that you can. This is one of the best ways to gain familiarity with the work world, and it will pay off later.
5. Ask your manager for feedback. You want to know your manager's assessment of your strengths and weaknesses, because that's valuable information that will help you do better in this job, and in the next one. Say something like, "I'd really value hearing your advice on where you think I'm doing well and what I could work on improving."
6. Learn from your co-workers. Ask them about their careers. How did they get into the field? What do they like about it? What do they find challenging? What advice do they have for you? Most people love to talk about themselves and will be flattered that you're asking about their experiences. Best of all, it's likely to make them want to help you. Speaking of which…
7. Ask for advice. Talk to people about your future plans. Let people know what you're hoping to do after graduation, and that you'd love any advice they have. Your co-workers can be very helpful to you in the future—telling you about job leads, recommending you, helping you figure out career choices, and so forth. But most people won't offer this kind of help if you don't explicitly ask for it. They'll often be happy to help if you do.
8. Thank people who help you. If your boss or another co-worker takes the time to help you with something, give them a sincere thank you. People who feel appreciated are more likely to go out of their way for you again. If you don't seem to care, they probably won't bother again.
Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog, where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues. She's also the co-author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager's Guide to Getting Results, and former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management, hiring, firing, and employee development.