Being an intern isn't easy. You are eager to prove yourself in your job and amongst your co-workers. You want to be a rock star, but you're a beginner - how do you show that you can hang with the big kids when you are just starting out? There can also be a lot of pressure because at the end of the day you are hoping that the internship will lead to a permanent position - a position for which there may be a lot of competition.
Best advice I ever heard about how to think about interning was from a good friend of mine: 'Think of the internship like an extended interview. They are getting to know you and you are getting to know them. It's an opportunity for you to show the value you can bring to them.' Those words were so powerful for me. I found a lot of motivation from meditating on that advice during my internship.
I've been an intern and managed interns so I relate to both wanting to be a great intern and wanting to have a great intern. I have seen some super star people that just soared as interns, but I have also seen people do things that all I could do in response is shake my head and say "What were they thinking?" Being a great intern is really pretty simple: work hard. To spell it out more, I've expounded on five specific points:
Arrive Early, Stay Late
Seriously. If you want a job then you have to prove you know how to work hard and that you will show up. This is the easiest way to do it, no special skills needed but the willingness to work. Almost every company has been burned by hiring someone they thought was going to be great but who turns out to be a slacker. This is a simple way to show you aren't the slacker type.
Conquer Challenges With Enthusiasm
Make up for your lack of experience with your enthusiasm for solving problems. The web shop is full of positions that are at their core professional problem-solvers. No matter what position you are going for, having the skills to identify problems well and, in turn, identify the corresponding solution is gold to any company. In this field of changing technology and developing programming languages, you will never get away from the need to research new solutions, no matter how seasoned you may be.
Get Things Done Tenaciously (& Ask For More)
Again, prove to your coworkers (and your boss) that you are not a slacker. It's all about productivity. If you aren't the organized type then you would do well to do some research and find some great project management tips that you can use. Struggling with getting tasks done while you are an intern clearly gives a bad impression. If you are waiting on someone else to provide you something, be a team player and see if there is anything you can do to help them that will free them up to help you. And when you get all your tasks completed? Go back and get some more! If your boss isn't available, you migh ask some of your co-workers if you can help them on any of their projects. Stay busy! Don't be the cliché intern who waits for direction and surfs the net while waiting to be told what to do.
Don't know the answer to every question? Of course you don't! You're an intern - no one expects you to know all the answers. You should ask questions, but there is definitely an art to getting the answers you need:
- Think through everything you need to know about an issue or task (best to write it down).
- Prioritize your questions according to your job description or project goal. Not all questions are equally important.
- Research on your own to find all the answers you can. Other coworkers, job related documentation and even the internet are great resources.
- Identify who in the organization can answer your questions & get answers to the highest priority items you couldn't find answers to. Their time is limited so you want to use it wisely.
*Tip - If you tend to be the know it all kind of guy you might want to temper that a little bit. There's a fine line between arrogance and knowledge.
Don't Complain About Money
Just my personal opinion: this is just tacky. I don't mean to infer that you don't ever talk about money - there is a time for that, but not until you are offered a position. Make them fall in love with you first. Make them see what a great work ethic you have. Show them you are a 'go getter'. You are the rock star intern they were always hoping for! Complaining about money while you are an intern is not a good tactic for pursuing a raise. If you couldn't afford the pay you were being offered, then why did you accept it in the first place? And a raise isn't a right, you have to earn it.
Having said all that, I want all the aspiring interns out there to know that most companies are rooting for their interns to succeed. They want you to be the rock star that they already suspect you to be. Let's face it, they hired you in the first place because they saw something in you that they liked and deemed valuable. It's up to you to confirm their suspicions.
Photo courtesy of Eli Christman.