So you got the internship—congrats! Now your mission, if you accept it, is to make a lasting impression on your supervisor and co-workers in the short time you work at the company. We got the inside scoop from a handful of experts and successful collegiettes on how to wow your boss and make meaningful connections at your internship site. In time, this could mean a great recommendation letter or even a full-time job offer!
1. Come in early and leave late
Although you can be a great intern without working insane hours, putting in more time than you’re required shows that you take the company seriously and that you really want to be there.
“For my first internship, at a luxury magazine, I was supposed to leave at 3 on the days I came in but the person I was going to interview for a story I was writing couldn't talk until 4:30,” says Jacqueline Klecak, a recent graduate of Rowan University. “I stayed anyway and it was definitely worth it because it was a great interview and I got a writing clip out of it. It also showed my editors that I really cared about the opportunity they gave me and how much I wanted to prove myself as a writer.”
For Krista Natali, the marketing manager at C California Style, who is in charge of hiring and supervising interns, “it is important to be flexible and able to stay when help is needed. This is something that is not expected but will make you stand out in a good way if you are able to stay.” Trust us, your supervisor will notice.
2. Anticipate your supervisor’s needs
This is Internship 101: if you want to stand out in a sea of interns, become your supervisor’s go-to person.
“I'm currently an intern at JMU's office of communications and marketing,” says Rachel Petty, a junior at James Madison University. “Part of my job is checking up on my supervisor's client websites. I know he wants me to do this each week, so when I send it to him without him asking, he really appreciates it!”
Obviously you should prioritize the work that you were explicitly assigned, but taking initiative will also get you a long way. “This takes a while to start doing but being a forward thinker and always predicting the next step is important,” says Lauren Berger, aka the Intern Queen. “At first, your supervisor is going to babysit and spoonfeed you information. Eventually, you want to show that you understand the company processes and you can think about the next step.”
Related: How to Stand Out At Your Internship
3. Ask employees to grab coffee or for an informational interview
One of the most precious resources for you at every company is the team. Whether someone is in an entry-level or senior position, they have experience that they would probably be more than happy to share with you.
“I first met with my supervisor as more of a get-to-know-you meeting,” says Macey Lavoie, a recent graduate of Westfield State University. “It was very informal and through an open discussion about recent books on the market and manuscripts I was reading for her, I learned details about the publishing field I hadn't known before.”
Natali agrees that meeting up one-on-one with employees is a great idea. “Once you are ‘in,’ take advantage of your surroundings,” she says. “You are there for your own learning experience and it is important to ask questions. Sitting down with people around the office is my biggest tip to interns. It really sets you apart from the others who are too scared to ask. It also puts you at front of mind for the employees—which is very important when asking them for a reference or asking for help finding a job.”
Ask someone to grab coffee—and not just your supervisor! You can learn from people at your company, and they can get to know you. We guarantee you’ll receive some valuable insights, and that person will be more likely to trust you with cool tasks in the future.
4. Offer to take on extra responsibilities
If you see a problem at your company that you could fix, suggest it to the person who’s in charge. You probably have the skill set to do it and your supervisor(s) will be super grateful that you’re taking something off their hands and benefiting the company.
On the other hand, if there’s something you’d like to get more experience in, you should definitely offer to help with that, too. “At a full-time internship in marketing, I wanted to update the website, so they let me do that,” says Alaina Leary, a Social Content Curator at Connelly Partners. “I wanted to work on helping them find an email platform, so I got to research which were best for business and why.”
Taking initiatives is truly one of the best things an intern can do. “If you see an area where the company is lacking or may need some attention, it is a good idea to offer to help!” Natali says. “Sometimes things get put on the side due to time restraints but if an intern offers to take care of it, the employer will see this as tenacity and will be very appreciative most of the time.
If you take on extra responsibilities, you’ll be helping the company, while adding skills to your resume. You have nothing to lose!
5. Take notes
You’re here to learn, so asking questions is more than encouraged! That said, you shouldn’t ask your supervisor to repeat something he or she just explained. This will make you seem inattentive and like a bit of an airhead—not really the look you’re going for! “We all think we can remember everything,” Berger says. “Guess what? We can’t.”
A great way to avoid this blunder is to take notes, if your supervisor explains things in person (as opposed to via email). “One thing I've always done is written down assignments that my supervisor's given me…as they're assigned to me!” says Tori Knoerzer, a junior at Emerson College. “I've had multiple employers say they are impressed with that initiative and I think if you're called into a meeting or to your supervisor's office, you should never show up without a pen and paper or laptop to take notes.”
Note-taking requires minimal effort, but will make a big difference. “It is very important to take notes for different projects or tasks in order to do the project correctly the first time,” Natali says. “Honestly, it can be a bit annoying when an intern asks you how to do something for the fifth time. Notes are great to refer back to at any time.”
You’ll be glad to have those notes if you have to perform a task you haven’t done in a while, or even for training the next intern.
6. Share your ideas
As an intern, you are at the lowest rank in the company, but this doesn’t mean that you don’t belong there! You were hired for a reason, and that reason is that you have something to offer. So don’t be afraid to share your ideas with your supervisor!
“I also was quick and open to offering feedback—politely, of course,” Alaina says. “[My supervisor] once asked me for feedback on the speech she was going to be giving on live television. I listened and took notes and then presented her with my ideas. She said she'd never had an intern give her honest feedback before and that she was SO impressed.” So impressed in fact that she ended up giving Alaina a real job while she was still in college.
But sharing your ideas doesn’t necessarily mean pointing out problems. For Sydnee Lyons, a first-year graduate student at Florida Atlantic University, “there's a lot of opportunity to be creative with an internship, and there's that feeling of less judgment for sharing your ideas because no one expects you to know everything.”
If you put it that way, you have no reason not to share your ideas! However, you should be careful about overstepping. “Sharing your thoughts and ideas is important in the right settings,” Natali says. “In an open forum or when asked, share away! If it is a closed meeting with the directors of the company, it is best to wait for an appropriate time. Sharing your ideas also shows your interest and gives the potential to surprise your employers.”
Use your best judgment! Always remember that your supervisors know the company and the field better than you do, even though you have plenty to offer.
7. Give thank you notes and/or little gifts
If you followed the tips above during your internship, your relationship with your supervisor(s) was an exchange that benefited both of you. Show your appreciation on your last day by bringing in a personalized note (and maybe some candy or a cute notebook) for each person who helped you—they will remember you fondly and probably be happy to help you in the future!
“At the end of every internship or co-op I've had, I have given my supervisors hand-written thank you notes,” Alaina says. “If I had coworkers I interacted with, I also gave thank you notes to them. I wanted my supervisors to feel like I had appreciated the experience, and that I got something out of working with them.”
File under gestures that cost you very little and have a great impact. “Everyone loves a thank you note!” Natali says. “Sending or giving a thank you note upon exit can leave a lasting impression on an employer. It is easy to do and always appreciated.” Duly noted.
8. Stay in touch after your internship
The people you met at your internship (both your superiors and your co-interns) are contacts that you can choose to keep for life. You never know when they will need your help or you will need theirs! But of course it shouldn’t be just about giving and taking—you might find that you really get along with these people and make new friends.
Staying in touch is especially crucial if you love the company you intern at. “If you are interested in obtaining a job at the company, it is very important to stay in touch,” Natali says. “You want to have the employer remember you for as long as possible so that when a job does become available, they will reach out to you first.”
That said, these contacts are great resources even if you don’t intend on working at that company. “I've also tried to stay in touch with as many past supervisors as possible,” Alaina says. “The best example of this is from my co-op at Beetle Press, where I ended up being hired on as an employee. Although I no longer work there, I like to stay in touch with my supervisor. She has given me freelance work in the past and also referred me to others who may need freelance work that she feels I'm suited for. Because we have a continual, strong relationship, I always know she will be a fantastic reference for me to use.”
Natali’s closing advice is to “make yourself memorable!” Your internship is entirely what you make of it. As long as you’re motivated, enthusiastic and enterprising, you will do great!