The Do’s and Don’ts of Being an Intern

Stop WorryingCongratulations! You’ve just gotten your first internship offer, and you’re ready to accept.

Now that you’ve completed the search, application, and interview processes, survived the tense waiting period, and written up a few new bullet points to add to your resume, it’s tempting to think that the hard part is over now. But far too many interns end up squandering their internships by forgetting that being an intern comes with responsibilities–and that being a good intern, or a bad intern, can impact you and your career beyond just your resume.

Here are a few tips on how to make the most of your internship:

Understand what you’re signing up for.
Are you sure you’ll be doing work, or at least contributing to work, that either interests you or teaches you something useful? Have you asked? Do you have the time in your schedule to commit to this internship? If you have met, or can meet, your potential coworkers before accepting the internship offer: do you think you’ll get along with them? Be sure that you’re a good fit for this position, and that this position is a good fit for you. If either of those things is not the case, your internship could turn out to be a worse experience than it’s worth.

Take your work seriously. 
Are you getting paid? Great. If not, that’s no excuse to not take your internship seriously. Often, the experience and connections you gain from internships are more valuable in the long term than your salary, especially since interns usually don’t have very high salaries anyway. You aren’t really working for free: remember that you applied for the position in the first place, and that you’re exchanging your work for the opportunity to learn about that business and what it contributes to. Besides, making a good impression on and genuinely aiding your supervisors and coworkers can pay off through connections and letters of recommendation later on.

Don’t snub menial jobs.
Accept that some of your work will probably be administrative or very low-level. Filing, stapling, and the occasional coffee run may be boring, but it’s necessary work, someone has to do it, and even your higher-ranking coworkers probably do some of this too (if not more.) Just be sure that you’re spending most (or, at the very least, a significant portion) of your internship time learning useful things.

Be aware of your work level. 
Ask for more work if you’re sure you can handle it. If you’ve got all of your internship responsibilities under control and have both the time and the competence to take on a bigger project, let your supervisor know. You may even consider taking the initiative to propose and assume responsibility for a new project that you think could support the work of your team. Only look for more responsibility if you’re sure you have what it takes to live up to higher expectations. Remember that, if you end up not being able to handle that responsibility, you impact not only yourself and your own work but your team’s as well.

Keep your ears and eyes open.
Much of the value of an internship comes from exposure to work beyond your internship duties. Get a feel for the conventions, politics, and priorities of your field and your organization by shadowing meetings, paying attention to conversations around you, asking (appropriate) questions, setting up informational interviews, and doing your own side research on interesting topics and issues that come up.

Follow these tips and your new internship is sure to be beneficial to both you and your company.

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Courtney Tran is a student at UC Berkeley, studying Political Economy and Rhetoric. In high school, she was named a National Merit Finalist and National AP Scholar, and she represented her district two years in a row in Public Forum Debate at the National Forensics League National Tournament.