Even though you're working hard to get along with your supervisor and stand out as a memorable intern, internships can be really tough—especially when you're not the best intern in the office. Another intern outshining you can really put a damper on your experience. But you can make your internship better not by competing with your co-intern, but by learning from her! Intern Queen Lauren Berger and Anne Brown, founder of career advice website Grad To Great, weigh in on six simple lessons you can learn from an awesome fellow intern.
1. They are enthusiastic about busywork.
Face it: occasionally, interns have to do some less-than-exciting work, like making copies or running errands. A subpar intern might hesitate to take on the task or quietly complain about it. But a great intern takes on the work with a smile and enthusiasm.
"An intern who acts as if everything is beneath [her] will never do as well as the one who brings an enthusiastic, can-do approach to her tasks," Brown says. Interns agree, too, like Shira Kipnees from Franklin & Marshall. “I take every job my boss gives me with a smile, and because of my nice attitude, she tends to give me more responsibilities and also more perks, such as letting me out of work early because I finish everything efficiently and nicely,” she says.
Berger suggests taking these boring tasks and turning them into a learning opportunity. "It's really great to see an intern not only doing the tasks that you give them, but [who] really wanted to understand the purpose behind them,” she says. “It shows that you're learning and taking the internship seriously.” So, the next time you get an assignment that involves busywork, ask what the task is for and how it contributes to the company. But be careful—you don’t want it to seem like you think the task is pointless. So instead of saying “What’s the point of this?” say “Sounds great! How will you use this information?” or “Is this part of a bigger project?” Not only will it help you understand and complete the job better, but you'll learn in the process, too!
2. They ask thoughtful questions.
Remember, you're not just doing an internship to put it on your resume; you're there to learn about your chosen industry. Really great interns remember that on a day-to-day basis. "The more you act as if you are interested in the work you're doing, the more responsibility you'll be given," Brown says. "And an internship is all about gaining as much real world experience as you can."
The best way to learn more about your internship is to ask lots of questions, Berger says. So in between your typical "How can I help?" and "Can you show me how to do this?" questions, impress your boss with intriguing questions about your career field, your employer's experience, or the company as a whole. For example, you could ask what they think the future of the industry looks like, or if they have ideas to improve the company. For bigger questions like these, it’s probably best to schedule a meeting with your boss instead of springing them on her while she’s busy working.
3. They ask for extra opportunities.
Good interns do everything their boss asks them to do. But great interns want to do more than that, so they find more ways to get involved and learn from their internship. Asking to get coffee with your boss, attend meetings, or contribute to a big project will show your boss that you really want to get as much as possible out of your time with the company. But there's a fine line, too! "It's a matter of being eager but not overeager," Berger says. If your boss seems hesitant to let you come to a meeting, don't ask again. Even if you don't get to take the opportunities you seek out, at least your boss knows you're looking for them!
Rachel Wendte, a recent grad of Butler University, found success in asking for more responsibility at her internship. “I told [my supervisor] that I would love more projects and that if anyone in the department needed my help, I was ready,” Rachel says. “She took my request to the next staff meeting and they listened. By the next week I had three more projects to work on. The best part of taking on the extra work was that people noticed. After a while, I no longer had to ask to attend staff meetings; I was invited.”
4. They make the most of downtime.
Whenever they have free time and there's nothing to do, most interns keep themselves busy by organizing the office, but amazing interns create their own tasks that will help the company in the long run. For example, Berger says that one of her current interns will scour the Web for industry news and send relevant articles to her. Because she's so busy and doesn't have time to do that kind of work, Berger really appreciates her intern's initiative.
Need some ideas to fill up your downtime? Try one of these:
- Brainstorm ideas for other projects.
- Make an internship handbook, if there isn’t one.
- Brainstorm ideas for new social media initiatives for the company.
- See if anything on the company’s website needs to be updated.
- Come up with a list of questions to ask your boss before you leave.
- Brainstorm or pitch new project ideas for your company.
- See if other departments can use your help.
- Make a master list of passwords, if you know them.
5. They know how people in the office communicate.
Communication is important in any field, and it can really make the difference between a good intern and an outstanding one. "An intern who can communicate well will make a good impression," Brown says. "This includes both verbal and written communication. The ability to write a clear, concise email is critical to success as an intern, as is the ability to get a point across during a conversation."
If you feel like you’re not on the same page as your boss sometimes, it might be because of how you're communicating with him or her. Take cues from your fellow interns about the best way to approach your co-workers. If you usually ask your boss questions in person but other interns stick to email, see if emailing works better. Similarly, know when the best time is to approach your boss. "There's a time and a place for everything," Berger says. "If you know your boss is on a tight schedule that day, it's probably not the best day to share your ideas. It's about reading the room, feeling a situation out, and knowing when the conversation is appropriate."
6. They take the job seriously.
Even though interns aren't officially full-time employees, the best interns perform like they are! "An intern who can successfully handle the types of assignments that full-time employees normally tackle will definitely stand out," Brown says. That doesn't mean you have to be doing huge projects to perform like a full-timer. "These tasks could be filling out a weekly report or taking notes in a meeting, then e-mailing them out to the participants," Brown says. "The ability to share in the workload of the team and shift some of the burden squarely on her shoulders is what makes an intern not only stand out, [but also] makes her valuable to the company."
By following the behavior of other employees and conducting herself in a mature, professional way, an intern can show that she really is a part of a team—not just a college student passing through. “You may only be an intern right now, but if you take yourself seriously and show your coworkers what you can do, you could have a good chance of becoming an employee [in the future],” says Christina Favuzzi from Cal Poly.
Following in stellar interns’ steps can help you become the best intern ever, too! Just remember that to really stand out and make an impact, go above and beyond your supervisor’s expectations, have a positive attitude, and make the most of your time with the company.