Things No One Tells You About Being an Intern

By Alyssa Laffitte on May 19, 2019

Internships are becoming increasingly popular with students and even college graduates because they truly are valuable learning experiences. An internship will expose you to daily life in your field of interest. It will be almost like a preview of what your life will be like if you decide to get a job in that field. It is designed to help you decide if you will be a good fit for the field, and if the field will be a good fit for you.

If you are a high school or college student and have not completed an internship yet, do not worry! It is not as intimidating as it seems. In this article, we will discuss things no one tells you about being an intern.

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The first few days will be an overwhelming information overload…

Be prepared, because the first day of your internship will be an information overload. You will likely go to orientation and social events, where you will be given many instructions and meet many people. You will likely sit through multiple presentations. You might even be given some reading material to help you get started in your position and to learn more about the program or company you will be working in. The first day of your internship will be fun and exciting, but it will also be hard for you to remember everything.

To help you remember what you learned, you should bring a notebook and pen to quickly jot down notes about who you met and what was discussed during orientation meetings. It’s also a good idea to bring a folder to store any papers you might be given, since you don’t want the papers to get lost at the bottom of your backpack. Having these supplies within your reach will help you prepare for the fun, overwhelming, information-heavy first day of your internship.

…But you will become a pro in no time!

Don’t get discouraged or overwhelmed by all the information you need to take in on the first day. Similarly, don’t be discouraged if you do not understand things the first time around. You won’t be like your co-workers, who have been in that workplace for a longer period of time. You should not expect yourself to have all the skills and knowledge on the first day of your internship. Isn’t the whole purpose of the internship to give you those skills and knowledge?

Instead, focus on improving yourself during the internship. Throughout those few weeks, you will see how much you learn and grow (not only as a young professional, but as a person, too!).  Throughout your time at the office, you will practice the skills you have learned until you become so good at it, it will become second nature. By the end of your time at your internship, you will become a pro at what you have done there.

However, this will not happen overnight! Give yourself time to learn, and you will become an efficient, skilled worker.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions

Especially on the first day of your internship, you will have a lot of questions and will need some guidance to start your project. Do not be afraid to ask for guidance or to ask any questions you might have. When people say “there is no such thing as a dumb question”, they are right! You will be a better worker if you have your questions answered. It’s better to ask a “dumb” question than to make a mistake on a project because you did not ask for help. Instead, ask for help when you need it, particularly when you are first starting out and still learning how things work at the office. Asking questions will save you lots of trouble throughout the course of your internship.

Infographic by Alyssa Laffitte

It’s important to have a mentor

Your mentor is likely the person you will go to with your questions, so it is important to have a mentor to help you out. Your mentor does not necessarily need to be your boss. In fact, you might not even see your main boss every day, so your mentor will need to be someone who is in the office with you day-to-day. Specifically, your mentor should be someone more experienced in the field, who is available and can dedicate time to train, coach, supervise, and guide you. This person will help you when you get stuck, and make sure you are learning what you need to learn. Specifically, they should be available to train you during your first few days at the office. Your mentor will be a resource to help you be successful in your internship. Forming a relationship with a more experienced co-worker that can help you throughout your internship will make all the difference in your internship experience.

You should use your internship as a networking opportunity

Of course, a major part of an internship is gaining experience in your chosen field. However, another important part of an internship is to network with people who have already established themselves in the field. The people you meet at this company could help you find a job in the future, or they might introduce you to someone who will (OR, you might help them!). It is always a good idea to expand your professional network.

Part of networking is maintaining the relationships you formed during your internship even after you leave; specifically, the relationships with your co-workers and your boss. This can be as simple as sending a quick email every few months giving them an update on your life. Keeping in contact with your internship network might make them more willing to write you a recommendation letter when you need to apply for jobs or graduate school. Similarly, if you want to work at the same company, they can put in a good word for you. These are the benefits of knowing many people in the field.

While you are completing your internship, make an effort to get to know people in the workplace and keep in touch with them even after you leave. You never know if you will need each other in the future!

Effective communication is crucial in the workplace

You have heard this many times, but communication is crucial in the workplace. Effective communication will form you into not only a good worker, but a good friend, too. You must mean what you say and say what you mean. Similarly, you must make an effort to be sure you understand what other people are saying. This will prevent misunderstandings that will lead to problems. Here are some general tips for effective communication:

  • Ask for clarification when you do not understand something. Just as you should not be ashamed to ask questions, you should not be ashamed to ask someone to clarify the message they want to communicate to you.
  • Use the “parrot” technique. The “parrot” technique involves repeating back to someone, in your own words, what they said to you. This will give the other person the opportunity to correct any misunderstandings you might have. In other words, it ensures you received the message the other person was trying to convey.
  • Think before you speak. Before you say anything, take a second to think about the best way to convey your message. It may sound simple, but it is very important!
  • Ask if the other person understood you.

Following these tips will help you communicate well, and in turn, avoid misunderstandings in the workplace.

You should treat your internship like a real job

Although your job may “only” be an internship and you may “only” be an intern, you should treat your internship like a real job. In other words, you must take it seriously. You must arrive and leave on time, keep lunch breaks to a reasonable length, follow the rules, respect your co-workers and boss, and genuinely try your best in your work. These are all things you will need to do when you have an actual job.

If you treat your internship like a real job, you will be more likely to be a successful intern. You will produce high-quality work and gain the respect of your co-workers and boss. They will see your true potential, that you will be a fantastic worker to have on their team!

Distractions will be a big problem, but you can avoid them

Part of respecting your workplace and treating your internship like a “real job” is to keep all distractions away. For example, even one notification on your phone can ruin your momentum. Scrolling on social media for just one minute will do the same thing. These distractions will keep you from doing your work. They will break your workflow and your concentration, and it is scientifically proven that it will take you a few minutes to return to your original level of focus. Also, if you have already been distracted, it will be difficult to break away from your distraction and return to work. For that reason, it’s better to avoid the distractions in the first place!

To avoid distractions, you should keep your workspace as clean as possible. For example, do not have unnecessary tabs open on your Internet browser. (If you’re like me, those “unnecessary tabs” are likely social media websites, which will be very tempting to open when you are bored at work.) Similarly, you should physically stash away distractions, too. If your work does not require it, do not use your computer. If you must use your computer, download a browser plugin that will block certain websites during work hours. You should also physically stash away your cell phone, too.

Although distractions are tempting, they can be avoided with those tricks. When you avoid distractions, you will be a more productive worker. In turn, you will gain more from your internship experience.

On the last day of your internship, you should ask your boss for feedback

When your internship comes to an end, it would be a good idea to ask your boss for feedback. Asking for feedback shows you are eager to learn and continue improving yourself. Your boss will appreciate that.

Specifically, you should ask about the areas in which you need to improve. Don’t take this feedback too personally. Instead, use it to become a better worker for your next internship or job. Additionally, you can also ask about the areas in which you performed well. You will know to continue doing these things. Your boss’s advice can help you grow to become a better, more productive worker.

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Your internship is a valuable learning experience

At the end of the day, your internship should be a learning experience above all else. You will learn not only the technical details and the day-to-day life of someone who works in your desired field, but you will also learn how to be a good worker, connect with others in the field, and decide if it is for you. You will learn a lot about yourself as a person, too. For this reason, you should take a few minutes after you finish your internship to reflect on your experience. Did you enjoy it? Why or why not? Could you see yourself doing something like that for the rest of your life? If you liked the industry, could you see yourself working full-time in that workplace?

It’s okay if you ended up not enjoying your internship experience. An internship is a great way to decide if you want to stay in an industry or not, and if you didn’t enjoy it, maybe you should consider pursuing a different field. It’s better to switch majors now than to change an entire career path later on in life (although it can be done, it’s better to find out sooner rather than later if you do not like a specific field).

All in all, see your internship as the learning experience it is. Use it to guide your next steps in life as you discover more about yourself and your field of interest.

23, ISFJ. Biology student. College lifestyle blogger. Avid reader and writer. Dog lover. Nerd. Boyband enthusiast. Superhero in training. Here to help you become the best you can be!

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