How to Be the Best Intern

My friend Jaime from The Prepary is back with more tips for the workplace. This time, she’s sharing super timely tips: ways to be the best summer intern. (And these tips can apply to more than internships– especially that first year at your job!) Having worked with interns at my old job, these tips are spot on in terms of what stands out. The interns that rolled in fifteen minutes late every morning and left every Friday early? I remember them (not in a positive light!), but the handful that went above and beyond doing every task, small and big, with a smile? They rocked!!! And I still keep in touch with them. (I’ll never forget the two girls who braved a torrential downpour to pick up a package that the office manager needed… They came back soaked, but never complained.)
5 Qualities of an Amazing Summer Intern
I’m a big fan of summer internship programs. I’ve spent a good portion of my career recruiting for and managing summer internship programs and also helping clients land great summer internships. I’ve had great interns myself and am completely sold on how much of an asset an intern can be. 
Internships are an incredible learning experience, and companies are going to be willing to teach you many new skills. Even though you’re learning, you should still think of your summer internship as a 10 week long interview. It is! How you do over the summer directly influences whether or not a company will hire you in the future. 
Regardless of industry, or the department you’re interning in, there are a few across-the-board qualities that will make you successful. 

1. Be Enthusiastic and Proactive
If people asked me to quickly rattle off a few qualities of a great intern the first things that would come to mind are “enthusiastic, eager, and proactive.” Of course technical skills matter, but I’ve seen some really smart, capable people come into companies and because they don’t seem excited about the work, they don’t leave a good impression on their team (even though they can probably do the job with their eyes closed!). You have to be into it. And that has to be apparent to those around you. 
Being proactive is not just doing what’s asked of you – it’s about going many steps beyond that. Finish up an assignment and ask for a new one. Meet someone in the office outside of your team and ask to learn more about what they do. Have someone come and speak to the group? Write a thank you note. Another great thing to do is ask to shadow people as they go throughout their day. Just observing, and sitting in on a meeting or conference call will teach you a ton about what day-to-day looks like in your industry. 
There are so many different ways to be proactive… and it is a quality that people can’t get enough of.
2. Take It Seriously
Most internship programs are designed to be lots of fun and hopefully you are interning with great people in a great city. That being said, it’s so important to take the experience seriously and ensure that the work is your primary focus. People on your team and around the office will notice if you’re too social, rolling in 10 minutes late every morning, or just taking it easy in general.
No matter how small the task write it down, ask for details, smile… even if you’re running an errand, take. it. seriously. Even the little things that seem trivial can have a big impact on a business. Everyone you’re working for now started where you are, and started by doing these seemingly insignificant tasks.
3. Know Your Stuff – Or Quickly Learn It 
Now for the more technical part of the job… even though the internship experience is all about learning, it’s important to come up to speed quickly. When you’re given a project, try to get as much context (where does it fit into the bigger picture) and instruction (hopefully from your manager) before getting started.
In some cases you might need to go the extra mile to do a great job. If you’re asked to organize something in Excel and don’t have a lot of experience, you might want to take a few YouTube tutorials before getting started. For everything you do, try to understand the “why” behind it and ask questions, research, and start to really know your stuff. 
There are also skills you already have that you can bring to the table to help your team. Are you an expert in something that can somehow be leveraged on a project? Bring up ideas proactively that play to the strengths you already have.

4. Pay Attention to the Details
This is an area where I see people falter. A few mistakes here and there are par for the course, but consistently having errors is not great. As tempted as you may be to turn something in quickly, don’t rush through your work. Quadruple-check everything. 
There’s a saying “done is better than perfect” but I actually don’t think it applies to many intern projects. Unless your manager has given a really tight turnaround on something, try to make it as close to perfect as possible and avoid the careless errors. 
5. Take Feedback and Adjust 
Unfortunately for all of us, we’re not perfect. Especially when the working world is new for you, you’re not going to hit the nail on the head every time. Some managers are better than others about providing feedback, but you should always ask for it.
As you hand in a project ask, “What are the things I did well and what could I have done differently.”  I can’t tell you how much of an asset that one question will be to you. If you go through a whole summer doing a certain quality of work but only hear the feedback at the end, you’ve lost your chance to wow your team and the company. Catch something early on? You can quickly adjust and get better every week. I know it can be awkward, but trust me, it’s better to know than not know.
You’re going to be great this summer. Keep these things in mind and be a consistent support and asset to your team and you’ll go from simply being a summer intern to someone the team can’t live without and wants to hire one day… and if you need advice, reach out anytime!

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great post! i'm starting another internship abroad in september, so these tips are really helpful 🙂 thanks for sharing!
xo, cheyenne

Erin Smutz

Great tips! I wished someone would have said this to me years ago. Also, I love your blog. The look, feel, fonts. Would you mind sharing which fonts you use (serif and sans serif)?