Summer internships are an excellent way to gain practical work experience to help prepare you for your future career. It’s more than just resume fodder; it’s an investment. Whether your internship is for credit toward your degree or for some extra spending money this summer, it’s important to make the most of your opportunity.
A wide range of work awaits at each different type of internship, but there are a few surefire ways to ensure you come out with more than a mastery of carrying six cups of coffee at once.
Perhaps the most important thing to understand about your internship is that the company/church/nonprofit you are working for does not exist to meet your every need or cater each task to your unique skillsets. It is likely that you’ll be doing quite a bit of “grunt work” like making copies, entering data into spreadsheets and running errands for those higher up the food chain during your internship.
View each task, no matter how menial, as if there is an opportunity to learn or refine an important skill. Doing a lot of data entry? Don’t look at the endless cells as a snooze-fest, see it as an opportunity to become a wizard at Microsoft Excel – a skill you’ll be able to take well beyond this summer.
Look for opportunities to insert a piece of yourself into each and every responsibility entrusted to you by your summer employer. Don’t just complete the task within the given deadline; look for ways to run past the finish line, to put that extra flair on each project, while still meeting the original deadline.
If you’re tasked with reorganizing the supply room, figure out a reasonable method to make the supply room more functional for every employee. Color-code everything, alphabetize when necessary, go label-maker crazy! Attach a reference guide to the wall and sign your name on it, so that every time someone finds their staple refill in no-time-flat they’ll have you to thank for it.
Your internship is a time to be able to put some of your hard-earned knowledge and skills to practice. Pull those notes back out from your Intro to Public Speaking course and come up with a clever way to introduce yourself to everyone you meet. Use your iPhone photography skills to capture company events and send them to whoever updates the company’s intranet or social media profiles. Dust off your PowerPoint skills to create a killer presentation for when you have to present your research plan to your boss at the end of the summer.
Your internship is just as much about the future you as it is the current you. The connections you make at your internship this summer will be crucial to you for many years to come. The skills you refine and the knowledge you gain will launch you forward into every other job you’ll ever have. Consequently, the reputation you earn this summer will stay with you for a long time as well.
That said, see your internship not as a 12-week requirement toward your degree plan, but as the launching point for the rest of your professional life, because that’s exactly what it is.
Arguably the most crucial step to making the most of your summer opportunity is having an intentional follow-up plan. Connect with your coworkers and fellow interns on social media. Write thank you notes to your boss and teammates. Set an alert in your calendar every couple of months just to find a reason to check in with someone.
Real life story: My intern last summer did an outstanding job, but likely the most valuable thing she did was make a conscious effort to follow up on a regular basis with several people within our company. As a result, when an opening became available this spring, she was at the forefront of our minds. Within weeks, she had accepted our offer to come on board and rejoin our team. Now, she can finish her last month of school with the peace of mind, knowing that she already has a job secured.
Jake Sligh, a 2010 Ouachita graduate, majored in business administration/marketing. He currently is director of marketing and digital sales at Arkansas Business Publishing Group. He and his wife, Hannah (OBU ’12), have one daughter and live in Little Rock, Ark.
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