How to Succeed at Your Internship (When you also have 15 other things to do)

Posted on Posted in Common Sense Tips, SahlComm Internship

Internships are often a student’s first foray into the professional world. While most students who find themselves in internship positions work during their summer or winter breaks, quite a few hold a position at the same time that they take a full course load. It can be hard to feel like you’ve truly found your foothold and are succeeding at your internship even when that’s the only thing on your plate—but what about when it isn’t?

Internships concurrent with classes, other paid positions and other activities are becoming more and more popular for students looking to bulk up their resume and work experience. Succeeding at an internship, especially if it’s your first time in a professional environment, can be difficult enough, but the task can become exceptionally daunting when you being piling on additional responsibilities; classes, exams, meetings, practices, papers. A busy schedule or having more on your schedule than usual shouldn’t necessarily put you off the idea of having an internship during the academic year. In fact, it can be an enormously helpful learning experience that you can draw on for years to come in both your professional and personal life. With a little attention to time management, organization and patience, you may find that having an internship during the semester is one of the best decisions you can make for yourself and your career.


Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons



Be Prepared– Listen to the Boy Scouts on this one, and make sure you come into your internship and semester prepared. The key here isn’t necessarily doing hours of work in advance, or trying to read your physics textbook before you step foot in the classroom, but rather making sure you’re organized and aware for the beginning of the year. Organization, especially where it concerns time management and due dates, can alleviate a lot of the hassle that can build over the course of a semester. Knowing when you’ll have free time for projects, homework, and yes—even a social life, is key to balancing internship and school life

Be Realistic- Having an internship during the semester is a big responsibility. It pays to seriously considerwhether or not you’re going to be willing to make some of the sacrifices necessary to be successful. Because you won’t have as much time during the day, this means often giving up social events or leisure activities in order to get your school work finished on time. As an intern, you’ll also have to be realistic about what you can accomplish at your workplaces. Since you’re most likely not a full-time employee, you still need to be aware of the need to honor your school commitments as well as your work commitments. This means that it’s crucial to have an open and honest line of communication with your supervisor about when you may be overwhelmed or facing a lot at school.

Be Careful- A wise man (okay, my dad) once told me that you should treat every internship like a months-long interview. Rather than relaxing, kicking your shoes off and goofing around, you should be on your most professional behavior. Internships, even unpaid ones, are a great source of experience, connections and recommendations. In certain circumstances they can lead to a full-time employment offer, so it’s critical that you act accordingly. Staying professional in during your internship, even with peers or fellow interns, will help you keep your best foot forward and will help you establish yourself as competent and capable.

Be Engaged- Whether you’re getting experience, getting school credits, or getting paid, an internship can only be as good as you make it. While it can be easy at times to sit around and play Candy Crush under your desk, is that really worth it? An internship can be a huge commitment of time and energy, and in order for you to really benefit from the learning experiences it can offer, you have to put in as much as you’d like to get out of it. A great recommendation, a new skill, or a portfolio of materials isn’t just going to appear after a few weeks of idly browsing Facebook, making copies and waiting for your lunch break to start. “But what, Emily, if they don’t give me anything to do?” Don’t look at a lack of concrete tasks as a barrier, but rather as an awesome challenge. This is an amazing way to prove that you have initiative, that you want to learn more about the industry, or that you’re willing to ask for additional responsibility. This is also a way to analyze possibilities and get creative. The only time you don’t have anything to do during an internship is when you don’t want to.

Be Proud- I’ve seen plenty of students with internships downplay their role or their accomplishments when discussing their semesters. One of the keys to success in balancing schoolwork and an internship is to have pride in yourself. You did it! Even nailing the interview portion and being offered an opportunity is an accomplishment, so managing to maintain your GPA and work externally at the same time is amazing. Get excited about the company or organization you’ll be working for, understand their values and goals. Be proud of the fact that you’re in an elite class of students able to manage an enormous amount of activity, and be proud of the unique opportunity this company is affording to you. Positive thinking, although a relatively minor tip, can have an enormous impact on your attitude and ultimate success in your position.

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