How to get the most out of your internship

You’re getting the marks to pass your courses and overall having a great time enjoying your life at university, when it suddenly occurs to you that you’re actually going to need a job soon. A degree might be that magic stamp on your resume which gets your foot in the door, but if you really want to make lasting impression at your dream workplace, why not consider an internship or placement?

Jump out of bed, make yourself a coffee and get ready to make some calls and send some emails if you haven’t already sorted out an internship. Getting a job at the end is the whole reason you applied for university, right? So get excited! Because there’s no better time to show everything you’ve learned to a potential future employer and pick up invaluable new skills to prepare you for working life. You’ll be a full-time employee before you know it, but you have to make sure that you do your internship right. We spoke to University Careers Consultant, Renée Smith, to find out how.

1. Know Your Stuff

The best way you can prepare yourself for an upcoming internship or placement (other than being super pumped about learning from some of the best in the industry) is to know what the company does and what it stands for. You wouldn’t submit a job application or attend a job interview without knowing what is involved with the role or some background information on the organisation; treat an internship the same way.

Go online and find examples of the organisation’s work; research and memorise their company values; and read articles from practitioners in that field (and the pros and cons of the job). You should start these preparations BEFORE starting your first day (not halfway through), that way you’ll seem confident and prepared going in. The work you undertake as an intern will give you great insight into what would be expected if you were a full-time employee. The fact you’ll have this extra knowledge and experience is sure to set you apart from other job applicants down the line.

2. Act the part

All the usual things you’d do for a paid job, you should be doing in your internship. This is the first and maybe only chance you’ll get to leave a lasting impression, so make sure it’s a good one. It’s important to present yourself in a professional way, because it’s the biggest indicator to employers that you’re serious about getting a job.

“When you’re out on placement you need to act as a professional,” says Renée. “You want to make a positive impact and leave a pleasing, lasting impression. To do this it’s important to present yourself professionally – look the part – turn up on time, complete work that has been assigned to you, ask questions and take notes. You also need to communicate professionally using business language in emails and meetings and on the phone.”

Introduce yourself to those you meet, give a smile to someone walking past or even offer to get them a tea or coffee. Whilst all of this won’t show off your knowledge and skill set, it is pretty crucial for presenting yourself as a genuinely great person to work with and an employee that really cares about their job.

3. Ask questions

The whole reason you applied for an internship is to learn. Don’t pester workers, but please…Take. Advantage. Of. This. Now’s the time to make (reasonable) mistakes, learn company and industry specific information and improve your skill set before you enter the workforce. But don’t just ask the typical questions to people like ‘what do you normally do in a working day’. Learn the technical side of the business, ask someone about their biggest challenge and how they overcame it and what the general rate of employment is. And most important of all; ‘what should I avoid if I want to work in this job?’

Some may argue though, there’s a fine line between asking questions and becoming annoying. According to Renée, it all comes down to how you ask the question.

“If you can show to an employer that you are working well and completing your work to a high standard within allocated timeframes, employers will be happy to give you additional tasks. So, in this case ask them if there is anything else you can help them with. If your supervisor is not around you can do the same with other people on your team. You need to be aware of those around you. If it’s really busy there may be some simple tasks you can pick up and complete without being asked. Otherwise, offer support in getting work completed rather than asking if you can have work,” she said.

Business acuity and emotional intelligence are important in the workplace. If you’re aware of yourself, others, and surroundings, and get in and have a go, you can usually avoid being ‘annoying’.

4. Show your skills

While presenting yourself well and knowing your stuff is important, you can’t just sit back and make people cups of tea all day. There are likely a whole host of resources you can use at this workplace, so use them to your benefit! Keep busy – but with the right tasks.

Bachelor of Communication/Law student Sarah James, says finding that point of difference in your internship is essential in making your mark.

“I knew that since they have a different intern every month, if I wanted to leave a lasting impression I would really have to work for it. Eventually I mustered up the courage to suggest my own story idea and they loved it! It felt great to work on the idea in a professional setting.”

Don’t sit there waiting for jobs to be assigned to you. Ask if there’s anything you can help with, and if the answer is no, use initiative to create work for yourself. This could be familiarising yourself with business-specific equipment or computer programs and taking notes, or even better; mirroring the work of those already working there, but putting your own personal spin on it. The most important thing is to have a stack of work to show the boss at the end of your time, to prove you have been busy working towards the daily tasks of a full-time employee. Showing you’re capable of performing to the expectations and standard of a paid employee is your best chance at scoring a job at the end.

“Employers are often happy to provide feedback throughout and at the end of an internship. It’s an idea to set up these expectations before you start. Think about having meetings at the halfway point and end of your internship. In this last meeting (of a good internship), ask them to be a referee,” says Renée.

So get out there, prove yourself and without a doubt you will be a step closer to getting a job. If you show you’re determined, put in the work and make the best first impression you can, you’re sure to be welcomed back; maybe even in a paid position!

If you’re looking for more advice on how to ace your internship or placement, drop by and talk to one of the University’s Career Consultants either in person or phone (02) 4921 5588.

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