An Internship Can Lay the Foundation for a Great Career
Your goals as an intern are to learn what you need to know, make a positive impression, and begin building your professional network. How do you achieve these goals? Read on to find out.
With the first month of the 2022 fall semester behind us, we wanted to take the opportunity to give some advice on how an internship (also called “co-op” in some institutions) provides an opportunity to gain transferrable skills and experience, build your professional network, and kickstart your career.
An internship is so much more than memorizing coffee orders. Your internship experiences—we recommend doing several—can be immensely valuable, offering you opportunities to build skills to showcase on your resume and LinkedIn profile and, most importantly, establish professional relationships with professionals in the industry you aspire to join.
Your Goals as an Intern
- Learn what you need to know. (Tip: Create a list of what you want to gain from your internship. On your first day, share your list with your boss.)
- Make a positive impression. (Make a strong enough impression, and—fingers-crossed—you will likely receive a job offer.)
- Begin building your professional network.
Creating a great impression starts with being relentlessly punctual. Woody Allen said it best, “Eighty percent of success is showing up.” Show up on time, or better yet, show up early. Arrive for meetings at least five minutes before they begin, even virtual ones. Complete tasks by, or slightly before, their deadlines. Employers value reliable employees. Internships are usually only 3 – 4 months long, so give your internship at least 100%.
“Every job is a self-portrait of the person who did it. Autograph your work with excellence.” — Ted Key, American cartoonist
Take on every task and assignment you are given with an unwavering commitment to excellence. It’s never beneath you to do what’s asked of you. If you are asked to make coffee, make the best coffee your colleagues have ever tasted. If asked to create an Excel template, put extra effort into ensuring it’s accurate, aesthetically pleasing, and comprehensive.
If you don’t know how to do a template, ask a fellow intern or search Google for resources, tips, and free templates. There are some great tutorial videos on LinkedIn Learning, which you can access for free through the Toronto Public Library. Continually delivering exceptional results is how you create a reputation that advances your career forward. Sometimes you will need to take extra steps to achieve that.
Act when you see a need (for example, sign for a package and deliver it directly to the recipient, offer to cover reception during lunch). Do not wait to be told. Checking your Instagram account while waiting to be given something to do is never a good look, but checking your company’s Instagram and liking and commenting on their posts is a much better way to look productive.
Interns who proactively seek out where they can be of help, or pitch in without being asked, are the ones employers remember. Deliver more than expected, do what no one else is willing to do, and you will be appreciated and remembered.
As an intern, it’s expected you’ll ask a lot of questions. Asking questions is the sign of an intellectually curious, diligent person, which are positive traits. To ask great questions, think in advance of questions to ask and spend time formulating your questions. When meeting with a peer or superior, ask questions that demonstrate you prepared for the meeting.
If you’re in a meeting with management, do not focus on your answers, but on what’s missing. Asking the questions no one else is asking (e.g., “How does A relate to B?”, “How has the company dealt with these issues in the past?”) will earn you a lot of points. These types of questions may seem obvious, but asking them can steer a group’s thinking and conversation in a more productive direction—this is how you get noticed.
When you hear someone ask a great, conversation-altering question, write it down and reflect on what made it great.
Ask at least one authentic question in every meeting you attend, even if you must stay after the meeting to ask it. Just make sure it does not make you late for another meeting. By following this advice, you will become comfortable asking questions in a group setting. You will also hone your ability to ask questions that lead to real insight and reveal your intellectual curiosity.
The biggest benefit you gain from an internship is to be in a setting that allows you to establish professional relationships, the kind you can leverage throughout your career, whether job hunting or seeking advice. Since internships do not last long, interns tend to focus solely on their work and only form connections with their immediate colleagues and fellow interns. Be a different kind of intern! Cultivate as many professional relationships throughout the company as possible.
Do not hesitate to introduce yourself to Senior Managers, Directors and VPs—they were once in your shoes. Invite your colleagues to lunch, especially the ones you notice that management hold in high regard. Ask them questions. (Everyone likes to talk about themselves and their successes.) Offer to help colleagues where you can.
Try to observe great relationship-builders and learn from them. We recommend reading The Connector’s Way: A Story About Building Business One Relationship at a Time by Patrick Galvin.
An internship is hard work, but it pays off. Only doing what is expected of you will not get you noticed; you will be just another intern. Go above and beyond, from arriving on time to doing exemplary work (which includes getting coffee orders right) and you will maximize your internship opportunities, laying the foundation for a great career.
Not sure where to look to find an internship? The Career Foundation offers job seekers a variety of employment opportunitiesthrough our specialized program offerings and our five full-suite employment centres.
Nick Kossovan, a well-seasoned veteran of the corporate landscape, offers advice on searching for a job. You can send Nick your questions at email@example.com.