Education Wednesday: How to Ace Your Internship

After the hard work of securing an internshipstudents must remain on top of their game to make the most of these important experiences. More young people must utilize internships to network, incubate new ideas, and begin building a professional portfolio of their work. While on the job, working smarter and leaving a memorable impression are the keys to acing an internship. 

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Participants of the Scripps Howard Foundation Hispanic Link Internship program stand outside of the Supreme Court. Courtesy: SFHwire.com

While at Howard University I participated in several internship programs, including one at the U.S. Department of Commerce (DOC). As a political science major, I was determined to gain first-hand experience that would build-upon my in-class studies. My experience as an intern was tremendously positive, particularly as I developed new professional skills. During this time I also determined public policy was the field I wanted to pursue after college. Now in my first job, the lessons I learned and connections I made continue to help me progress in my work. 

Internships have increasingly become a necessity for transitioning from college into a thriving career. Companies often fill positions internally, starting with exceptional employees (such as bright interns). In fact, studies find that students who participate in well-structured internship programs are twice as likely to be recruited for full-time employment as students who do not.  

Aundrea’s Tips for Making the Most of Your Internship

  1. Consider yourself a colleague not a grunt: Whether you are filing papers or leading projects independently, always value the work you do as an intern. I still remember being corrected by a former mentor that I was not “just an intern”, but rather a vital contributing member of a team. Remaining eager to learn and consistent in your work will demonstrate that you are a valuable addition to the office. 

  2. Let no task be beneath you: Along the lines of considering yourself a colleague, look at every assignment as a chance to demonstrate resourcefulness, initiative, or your problem solving skills. Every assignment is also an opportunity to discover a new interest or gain valuable knowledge. Hint: If someone asks you to make copies, read what you are copying! This is actually a great way to stay current on the work that is going on in the office.

  3. Master time management: I learned nothing is more important than time management in a fast-paced office. Be aware of deadlines and factor in “backtime” (the time needed in advance to make sure you meet your deadlines), as The Wise Latina Club’s Viviana Hurtado Ph.D advises. Creating daily to-do lists and using a planner helped me stay on top of  my tasks. Now there many smartphone apps and computer programs to help you stay organized. Find what works for you and stick with it.

  4. Ask colleagues about their positions: One of the coolest things about my internship at the Department of Commerce was the “Brown Bag Lunch” speaker series. Each week a senior staff member would speak to the group of interns about their position. Afterwards, the presenters would make themselves available if anyone had an interest in their work. In a similar fashion, don’t be afraid to ask colleagues about the duties or their role. It could inspire your career aspirations and is smart networking.

  5. Buddy-up with the other interns: Internships are awesome because they bring together bright minds from all walks of life. Don’t miss the opportunity to build new positive relationships and future career connections. My summer at the Department of Commerce was made even more enjoyable by attending events and bonding with my fellow interns. This can especially be a great comfort if you are interning far from home.

Internships are often students’ first experience in a professional workplace, and the first bullet point on their resumé. Prior to the end of the internship, be sure to ask the head of the program or office for a recommendation. Keeping note of the work you do at an organization is important, especially to demonstrate the skills you  gained in a future job interview.   

Much as  I discuss in Education Wednesday: Why Internships Matter, leaving college with a competitive resumé is something our students cannot miss. We as parents, teachers and mentors must continue to encourage students to apply for intern positions and coach them on how they can excel in these roles. First generation and minority students must especially be guided because access to these positions and first-hand knowledge remains limited. We cannot let our young people miss the path to their future.

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An education policy wonk at the Georgia Center of Opportunity, Aundrea Gregg holds a Master’s degree in Social Policy and Planning from the London School Of Economics and a Bachelor’s in Classical Civilizations and Political Science from Howard University. She also is a nail painting enthusiast and writer living in Atlanta, GA. Connect with Aundrea on Twitter or Google+.

Edited by: Viviana Hurtado, Ph.D.

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