You’ve scoured every LinkedIn article, and you’ve googled “How to be a great intern” at least eleven times. You’ve bought five new dress shirts, a new blazer, and the notebook that you’ve had your eye on too. You know to arrive a few minutes early each day, to always dress and act professionally, and to constantly be taking notes. While all of these things are important, has anyone actually told you how to get the best out of your internship? I’m no seasoned professional, but as someone who was where you’re about to be less than two weeks ago—and for the very first time—I may have a little something to offer. Your internship doesn’t have to be just an internship; it can be a life-changing experience. Here are some ways to get the very best out of your summer, spring, or fall internship.
Say hello and introduce yourself to as many people as you can during your first week. Make an effort to truly remember names. It’s good to recognize the people you’ll be emailing and working with—and it’s also good to put your name and face out there as well.
Be proactive. Be bold. Be brave.
You’ll have daily tasks given to you by your supervisor. But one of the most incredible parts of having an internship is that you have the opportunity and ability to experience and explore a variety of things. You have a building full of resources at your fingertips; use it! Whether it’s an informational interview, sitting in on a morning meeting, going on a shoot, or shadowing someone in or out of your department—be straightforward about what you want to do and what you would like to try. No one will necessarily tell you to try things, so it’s up to you to bring these ideas to the table. Often times, you’ll be rewarded and even recognized for showing initiative. Most supervisors understand that internships are all about learning, and are there to help and support you in making that happen.
Be open to learning.
When something is thrown your way, welcome it with open arms as a learning experience—or even as a challenge.
Try new things and ask questions.
Sit with someone and watch what they do, and ask questions about how they do it. Despite what you are specifically interested in, there are many pieces that go into the making of the whole. Expand your knowledge on every aspect of what your company does. You’ll look better for it.
Sometimes you will be given a task outside of your daily duties and what you’re used to doing. Be present in these moments. They end up being some of the best learning experiences.
Carry your notebook…everywhere.
And I mean everywhere. You never know when you’ll be asked to do a small task, or be told something awesome or inspirational that you want to remember forever.
Reach out when you are inspired or intrigued.
If you appreciate or admire someone—tell them. I know you may feel like you’re a bother at first, but the truth is: people love to be flattered. Although this is true, always be genuine in your efforts and your interests. Ask to chat over coffee or lunch. Some people like to bring a list of questions, and some like to make it more conversational; find what’s best for you. Most people are happy to tell you their stories, how they got to where they are, and how you can be successful too.
You’re a part of a team now.
Someone once told me, “You’re never just an intern.” From the day you begin your internship until the very end—you are part of the team. Everyone works together and helps one another to achieve the greater goal of an awesome project, production, show, or brand. What you do is not isolated; you can have a positive or negative effect on it all.
Don’t take it personally.
Although everyone is usually welcoming and friendly, everyone also has a job to do. A lot of the times people are busy-busy, so if someone happens to come across as rude or cold in an email or in person—it’s not usually you. Send an email before you approach someone, or ask them if they’re busy when you drop by. There may be a lot going on during crunch time.
Better detailed than not.
It’s always better to dial it back than to not give it enough the first time around.
Anticipate how you can help.
During my internship, I often transcribed interviews for producers to skim through for story ideas. They were usually pages and pages (and pages) long, so I always tried to highlight a few potentially interesting lines and note when a new topic began. Going the extra mile is well worth it. You’ll stand out.
Always be ready to think on your toes.
Things happen, and sometimes there’s nothing you can do. But if there is an opportunity to fix something, don’t be afraid to propose a quick solution. You could be the one to save the day.
You will make mistakes.
And that’s okay. It’s part of the process. But what matters is that you are learning from it, and that it shows.
This all depends on your line of work, and how many people are assigning you tasks during your internship. But if you’re swamped—say so. Be honest about how much you are working on, and give a truthful estimate as to when you’ll be able to help that person. The great Jackson 5 once said, “A, B, C, as easy as ‘I’m working on something now, but I can get to this in about fifteen to twenty minutes. I will update you as soon as I start.'” This is always better than saying you can do something, and not turning it in until five hours later.
If you are interning somewhere with a million things happening at once and a thousand requests from a handful of people, things can become overwhelming at times. Who’s request do I complete first? Will I be able to get everything done? As someone who struggles with prioritizing, the best advice I’ve ever received from someone is to “Work deadline to deadline.” Whenever you receive a task or request, ask for the due date or deadline. Work in order of what’s needed first.
Like I said before, you’re part of the team now. If you have a huge task to take on and you’re being honest with yourself about the amount of work it will be—split it up between you and the other intern/interns, if possible. Teamwork makes the dream work.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Seriously.
Much of the knowledge I acquired throughout my internship, in addition to being taught, is from asking for help. When a producer once asked me to find multiple clips of someone saying “obsessed” in an archive full of tapes, I asked what would be the best and most efficient way to find it, and she helped me with no problem. You will always be able to find people who are willing to help. Take advantage of that. But always remember to look it up before you ask, and to write it down so you remember for next time—and the next person.
Beat the “nothing to do” blues.
Even when you’ve asked every single person in the office if they need help and they’ve all said, “No, but thanks”—there is always something to do. If there really is nothing to do, then create something to do. Research trends, make a presentation, write an analysis, or even organize the storage closet. Act upon your ideas. As always—you’ll stand out.
Attitude is everything.
I love the saying “Your energy introduces you before you even speak.” You set the tone for your day, as well as anyone else’s that you come into contact with. Be positive, be friendly, and be you. It goes a very long way.
Walk into every day like it’s your first day.
I’m no stranger to first-day jitters, but I do believe in a little thing called “first-day glow.” You may be shaking in your boots, but there’s a total sense of confidence, professionalism, and brightness that you exude walking into your very first day on the job. You’re dressed to the impress, you want to prove yourself, and you’re ready to learn. Bring that same energy, confidence, and sparkle every other day, all the way until your last day. Another day, another slay—am I right?
Just because you’re only there for a few months doesn’t mean that you can’t build real relationships. I’ve met the most amazing people, made the most incredible connections, and found life-long friends in just one summer: from interns throughout the building, to producers and production assistants in the newsroom, to the people in the media center and at the security desk and working valet. At the end of your internship, don’t forget to write thank you notes (you don’t have to limit it to just your supervisor) and exchange contact information. Working hard and being professional always comes first—but be a real person too. Ask someone about their day, or their weekend. Talk about your goals and aspirations. That could be the person to open the next door in your career for you. Even if that’s not the case—at least you made someone smile.
Time is short but sweet.
Let me tell you—time flies. Make every single moment count. Don’t wait until the last minute to do all the things you want to do. Take advantage of every opportunity that presents itself, and create opportunity for yourself. Most importantly—be fearless. You’ll be glad you were in the end.
Leave your mark.
Every time I embark on a new journey or chapter in my life, I ask myself: “How will leave my mark?” How can I make this place better? How do I want to be remembered? What kind of imprint do I want to leave? You don’t have to set the world on fire, or create something extravagant. But I’ve learned that little things can leave the biggest impact. With that being said—what kind of mark do you want to leave?
On the first day of my internship, the other intern whom I worked closely with this summer, Tessa, sat down with me for lunch. Not only was it my first day after she had already been there for a few weeks, but it was her eighth internship while it was only my first. I told her how intimidated I was, and she told me something I’ll never forget.
“What would you do if you weren’t afraid?”
We laughed, and she told me it was her motto for the summer. I gave her a big hug and stuck it on a sticky note next to my desk. It quickly became the theme of my summer too, and I’m glad it did.
So now I’ll ask you.
What would you do if you weren’t afraid?
The only way for this to be the best experience of your life, is to make it the best experience of your life. Fall into this experience with open arms, an open heart, and an open mind. Go after what you want, and soak up every moment of it.
You were chosen for a reason, and you’re going to do great. Do good, be good, and work hard. Congratulations, and best of luck!
Mia Brabham is a senior at James Madison University in Virginia, studying Media Arts and Design with a minor in Creative Writing. She was recently a Summer 2015 production intern at E! News in Los Angeles, California. After graduating, Mia wants to direct, write, act, produce, and eventually host her own television show. You can find her on Twitter at @yourstrulymia_.