A guideline for students

Internships offer undoubtedly one of the best ways to get a sense of a job, a field of expertise or a potential career path. As a participant you are typically placed in a work environment where you have the opportunity to both learn and contribute to an organisation.

So, let’s make sure it does pay off. Get the best out of it, for you, for the team, and for the organization.

What’s in it for you?

  • A first impression of ‘work’. School or college are not the best suited to offer a thorough insight into ‘work’. The internship does. It gets you a sense of how you could practice your interests, your talents, make it a career. It lets you experience the dynamics of goals and delivery, work with colleagues and understand decision making. And it offers a first view of the role and importance of customers and competitors.
  • A reality check on career direction. Some of us have a good idea about where to go, others don’t have a clue. The internship could offer invaluable experience to test a career direction you have in mind. Is it indeed what you expected? Should you reconsider? And for those who just don’t know yet: would this be something to consider? Is this something that nicely builds on my talents and interests? Or the opposite?
  • Supporting an organization & have an impact. The internship is normally a combination of people taking you along and introducing you to an organization’s activity, as well as contributing to that organization by delivering on some tasks that you are assigned to. There will always be room to make a real impact.
  • The start of a network. Having a good network is critical to getting things done, inside an organization and outside. The internship could serve as an important reminder and building block to start creating your network. You will meet people with different backgrounds in the organization, and in the team you work with.

A checklist to make it successful

Prepare well. Reflect on what you would like to get out of the internship. Write it down. Try to define what you would like to learn during the internship. These are your learning goals. Make them part of the first meeting you will have with the organization. Remember that the Innovative Internship is a team effort, so make sure your goals align well with the team’s.

A thorough preparation serves two purposes: 1. It makes sure you set yourself up for a successful internship. It makes you hit the road running; 2. It helps you make a great first impression with the organization. Great first impressions matter a lot. They trigger an immediate respect and interest with the person you meet. They would be more tempted to pull you in and help you along.

Set and agree goals. Check your learning goals with the person who will support you at the internship, and the team you will work with. Make sure you agree on a set of goals. Make sure they are both about you ‘learning’ things and supporting the organization. It’s best to have both longer term goals that could be reviewed at the end of the internship, and shorter term ones, that specify what you would focus on on -say- a weekly base.

Meet people. If not already arranged by your host, reach out to people across the organization. Mention it at your host. Meeting people from other parts of the organization help you too get a broader perspective of how things work, and what the culture is. Make a simple checklist to have quick meets with impact : 1. introduce yourself; 2. ask them what their role is, and how it relates to the area you are focussing on; 3. ask them what the biggest challenge is in their organization; ask them if they have any advice for you if you would like to pursue a career at this organization.

Learn from your host. Ask them how they got to where they are right now. What would they suggest you do in terms of education and experience. Ask them what they would have done differently when they would start over again. Ask them about examples of situations they have been in where they learned most of.

Ask questions.You already got the hang of it. The most effective way to get to learn during your internship, is by asking questions to the people you meet. Make it a habit to prepare questions before you meet someone.

  • Make notes. Bring a notepad or iPad with questions, and make notes of what you hear. It makes you register things better, and it shows respect to the person you meet when you write things down.
  • Evaluate and reflect. Liked it, really ? At the end of the internship, take time to reflect on your experience. Make notes of your conclusions. How well did you reach your learning goals? What did you like about what you experienced. What did you like less? Are the ‘likes’ of this experience outbalancing the ‘dislikes’? Take a close look again at your Swipe Assessment. How do your likes match your personal strengths and interests? Any conclusions you can draw with regard to your career direction?

Further resources

10 Tips to Make the Most of an Internship

Making the Most of Your Internship

9 Things Every Intern Must Make Sure to Do