Maximize Your Internship

TIPS FOR ONCE YOUR INTERNSHIP IS UNDERWAY:
PRESENTING A PROFESSIONAL APPEARANCE & GETTING THE MOST FROM YOUR EXPERIENCE


1. What to wear:

Your best gauge for what to wear at your internship is what your co-workers are wearing. Aim for the same level of casual/professional that seems to be the standard at your site but remember to always err to the side of dressing up rather than down. What you don't want to be is the MOST casually dressed person there. Project a professional image and you'll increase your chances of being taken seriously and treated professionally, which after all is your goal.

2. Confidentiality:

Confidentiality is important at all placements, crucial at some. Your sponsor should be able to feel confident that company business will remain the company's business, not become fodder for small talk around town. Whether you're working with young children at a school, defendants at a lawyer's office, or a new ad campaign at an advertising agency, it is imperative that you remember you have been entrusted with privileged information and that your sponsor has every right to expect you to act in a professional manner with respect to issues of confidentiality.

3. Mid-term review:

Mid-term is an excellent time to assess how things are going, especially in relation to your own hopes and expectations for your internship semester. Are you getting everything out of the experience that you had hoped for? Are there additional responsibilities you feel sure you are qualified for that you have not been asked to undertake? Would your sponsor be willing to have a mid-way assessment meeting where the sponsor could pass on information and suggestions about areas of your performance they have been particularly pleased with and areas where they feel improvements might be needed? Such a meeting would be an excellent occasion for you to detail what you feel you have already gained and to outline what you hope to be able to accomplish in the weeks remaining. If you are thinking about initiating such a discussion and would like to "test drive" your ideas and phrasing, I would be happy to meet with you prior to your broaching it with your sponsor, either by e-mail or during office hours.

4. Academic vacation days:

What about days that are designated holidays on the academic calendar like Labor Day, the Jewish High Holy Days or Spring Break? Are you required to go to your internship site on those days? For the most part, you need to think of your internship more in terms of a job than in terms of a class. You cannot presume that your internship will follow the University calendar -- or that your internship site will even be aware of the University calendar! English department requirements specify a total number of hours but how those hours are scheduled is a negotiation between yourself and your supervisor (who is advised that other scheduled classes need to take precedence).

If you're interning at a site, such as say a TV station or a newspaper, where typically work needs to go on even on a holiday such as Labor Day, the likelihood is that your supervisor will expect you to put in your regular hours just as the other employees do unless you have previously made other arrangements for a valid reason. Religious holidays would be much the same. If you observe the Jewish holidays, just as you would do as an employee, you make arrangements ahead of time to have that time off. If you are not involved in religious observance on those days, it's not a day off at your internship just because the university has suspended classes. If it's the spring semester and you know you have tickets for Cancun for Spring Break, let you supervisor know at the start of the semester that this particular week is Spring Break and you have travel plans that prevent you from being at your internship site during that week.

If you take days off and thus are short hours, efforts need to be made to make up those hours to ensure your total at the end of the semester. If this looks as if it will be a problem for you for reasons beyond your control (for instance, you need to observe the religious holidays, which fall on your internship days, but your internship supervisor is not able to schedule you for extra hours at a different time -- something along those lines), contact me as soon as you perceive it will be a problem so that we can work something out (see below for further discussion of fulfilling the time requirements).

5. Fulfilling the time requirement:

For a variety of reasons beyond their control, students will sometimes have difficulty fulfilling the time commitment requirements for their internship. The sooner you recognize that difficulties might arise in that regard, the more options you will have to deal with the problem. As a matter of equity, all interns are required to devote the same number of hours to their differing internships but sometimes providing that equity requires some creativity.

Education interns, particularly those in the fall semester, often encounter this problem because of the length of the school day and because our fall semester generally begins weeks before schools are in session. Planning ahead is the key here. A teacher's job includes not just time spent in the classroom, but equally as important is the time spent in preparation. Any time spent away from the school site that is spent preparing for the internship -- grading papers, planning lessons, preparing materials for the teacher, or whatever -- is certainly legitimate internship time. Fall interns would do well at the time that they interview IN THE SPRING to discuss with their sponsoring teacher the exigencies of your time commitment and see if you could perhaps arrange with the teacher to come in during the weeks prior to school's start to help with preparations.

6. Making the most of your internship opportunity:

While it is true that you're not being paid for the work you do at your internship, that does not mean that the work you do won't pay off in the long run. The real-world experience and career connections an internship provides can have an important impact on your future. Here are some further tips to help you make the most of your time there:

  • Act professionally. Though you're receiving University credit for your internship, you should approach your internship as if it were a full-time job, rather than as if it were just another class. To make and maintain the kind of impression that earns acclaim, always act professionally.
  • Reliability ranks high among qualities employers look for. Show up on time, and work until you're scheduled to go. Be as good as your word: be there when you say you'll be there; do the work you say you'll do. Arrange any necessary alterations in the schedule with your supervisor ahead of time. It's common courtesy and it shows that you take your responsibilities seriously.
  • Present a professional appearance.
  • Use good judgment about what information you discuss outside of the workplace. 
  • Accentuate the positive: When it comes to job satisfaction, whom you work with can be just about as important as what work you do. Employers are well aware of this and thus weigh attitude at least as highly as ability when assessing potential hires. Be the kind of person employers are eager to hire by projecting a positive, can-do (or at least, can-learn-to-do!) attitude.
  • Avoid getting involved in office gossip. Be pleasant and courteous with everyone (in the rare instance that a situation arises in your internship that makes this advice seem inadequate, don't hesitate to contact the internship program director to talk things over).
  • Especially at the start of your internship, you may be asked to do work that seems to you menial or uninteresting. Completing the task efficiently and without complaint is the surest way of convincing your supervisor you're ready for more responsibility. And sometimes there are dull jobs which are nevertheless important to an overall project; pitching in cheerfully and maintaining your enthusiasm for accomplishing the larger goal is an attitude that any employer appreciates.
  • Be proactive and productive: Take responsibility for your own learning. At some sites, there will be a supervisor who is a born teacher and who takes it upon themselves to try to make sure each intern has a productive experience but not atypically, a good portion of that responsibility is going to fall to you. It's called "initiative."
  • Do the jobs you're asked to do cheerfully but don't be afraid to look around for things that need doing and volunteer to take on responsibilities. Employers love a "self-starter." If there is a project or a division or a job that interests you that you haven't had the chance to try yet, ask your supervisor if you might be involved. Look for opportunities to network and meet people. Be friendly, interested, and curious. Be a good listener. If your supervisor doesn't give much feedback on your performance, ask how you're doing--what are your strong points, what needs improvement? Try to act on those suggestions.
  • Create a paper trail: You might think now that you'll never forget any portion of your internship experience but over time you'll find that some material record of your experiences can prove very valuable. 
    • Keeping a journal allows you to chart your progress and will be invaluable to you when you prepare your final project. Recording the various tasks you do and how you feel about each aspect of the job will help you in making future career choices.
    • Ask if you can keep a copy of work you do -- brochures, reports, etc. These items can be included in a portfolio for your final project and can form the basis of job-hunting portfolio as well.

Last Updated: 7/25/14