Kari McMahon

@karimcmahon

Making The Most Of Your Internship

Do’s and Dont’s

It’s internship season! The time of the year when fresh faced individuals take over the office with bubbling enthusiasm in impeccability ironed and professional outfits.

Three years ago I was a summer intern in technology which led to an offer on to a graduate programme since then I have worked with and mentored interns in varying degrees. I would like to share some advice and tips on how to make the most of your summer internship.

  1. Be prepared to learn! Bring a notebook!

Most interns turn up with every piece of stationary under the sun on their first day. However most forget to use it, it seems more like a decoration they carry around with them but write very little in. In your first week you are going to be thrown so much information by various people, it’s good to take short notes while you are speaking with them and then write formal notes after the meeting. I try to send out notes after the meeting because I know how overwhelming all the information can be however not everyone is so kind!

Try to use the notebook like a daily journal capturing not only knowledge but some of your own thoughts and feelings. This is useful because in most internships you have an end of internship presentation and in some cases a report and presentation for university as well. Daily notes are a god send in this situation because you can essentially use it a basis and structure for these reports and presentations. By week 10, it will be hard to think back to what was happening in week 3 or 4. The notes will help jog your memory.

Try to note the names, job titles and contact details of everyone you meet. You never know when you might need that contact again! I wish I had did more of this on my internship.

It’s also helpful to ask if they want you to look at anything before you start the internship. I did this and it was more for putting my mind at ease. My manager told me I didn’t need to look into anything however I still looked into python as that was what we would be working in and it made me feel better to be slightly prepared.

2. Don’t skip lunch. Don’t work crazy hours.

As an intern you want to impress. One of the typical ways interns try to impress is by coming in earlier and leaving later than everyone else. Most teams and managers see straight through this. In your first week, you won’t have much of a workload as you are just getting setup, so why are you working the same hours as an executive director?

It’s ok to work later or come in earlier, if those times work better for you or you feel you need the extra hours in the day to get up to speed. However I would rather see deliverables and work progressing over seeing an intern in office at 7/8pm.

On this note take the full hour lunch break! At least take it most of the time. Internships are about making friendships and a network. Lunches and coffee breaks are a great way to meet other interns and learn about what they are doing. Maybe you don’t like the work your team is doing, speak to other interns about what they are doing and you might find something that appeals to you elsewhere in the company.

3. Network. Network. Network.

In most large companies HR will setup a ton of networking events for summer interns. This is a great way to find out more about the company and see if it’s the right fit for you. It’s a great way to meet potential mentors or to find out more about different roles.

As a summer intern, I often felt like my schedule of networking events was a bit hectic. I would say I am quite introverted, so sometimes I needed a break from networking. However it was hard to say no due to FOMO. I think it’s important to say no, if you are walking into a networking event with dread and feeling exhausted, take the night off and recover. You aren’t going to add much value in that mood anyway, there will always be another event.

4. Be Realistic About Workload

Be honest if you are feeling overloaded or under utilised. You are interviewing us just as much as we are interviewing you for a full time position. We want to impress you and show you we are a great company to work for. If you think your project is super boring, tell us. Most teams will want to help you find the right project and team within the company.

It’s also easy to end up with too much work. When there is an intern on the team, it is easy for various team members to throw random things your way. You will want to say yes to them all. However be honest, don’t let it impact your main deliverables set by your manager. Other team members will understand and are probably just trying to keep you engaged.

5. Be Honest About Your Expectations/Feelings About The Job & General Career Path.

If you don’t like the work but you love the team, be honest about it and they will try to help you find something you want to work on if you come back as a graduate.

If you like the work but your manager is a nightmare boss, be honest with HR. You are on the internship programme because we think you have potential. Some managers are just not cut out to manage interns or anyone for that matter! Sometimes you just draw the unlucky straw in team selection but it doesn’t mean everyone in the company is like that. Find someone you trust whether it’s your mentor, associates in your team or HR and tell them about your problem. They will try to do their best to help you meet great people in the company. I have seen a few people in this situation on my internship and no one was punished for being honest about having a bad manager.

6. Immerse yourself in knowledge transfers and mentoring sessions

On my internship it was mandatory to workshadow 3 interns and 5 employees in general. This a great way to learn about the company and because it was mandatory, everyone did it because they thought it might impact whether they get an offer or not. If your company does not have a programme like this, try to introduce it. Workshadowing is without a doubt one of the best things to do in your internship!

7. Attend company events

Any major corporation has tons of company events from diversity groups to speaker sessions to sports clubs. Try to get involved in as many as possible. I will never judge an intern for attending company events because I know they are trying to make the most of the time at the company. So don’t miss out on events because you think it might look bad that you are away from your desk for a couple of hours.

8. Ask For Feedback / 1:1's

One of my skills is that I am incredibly good at reading people. However that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t ask for feedback. For the first couple of weeks in my internship, I was sure my team thought I was awful! When I spoke to them and got some feedback, I found out they did think I was a good and hard working employee but they just didn’t think my heart was really in the job (which looking back they were right on). It is easy to get a vibe on whether you think you are doing well on the internship or not and a good manager should be frequently be providing feedback. However by actively asking for feedback you can find out what you need to work on.

9. Technology Setup Usually Sucks

When you join any big company, it’s usually a painful process to get the tech setup. Whether it’s interns arriving and not having desks, phones, the correct login. Even after you have the right hardware, it’s still days of installs in the first week. Don’t take it personally, some teams are great with having your setup ready and others are not so great. Try to go with the flow and leave feedback at the end of internship if the tech setup was bad. Then they can look to improve it.

10. Enjoy it! Don’t overthink it.

Embrace the internship. Don’t compare yourself to others. Working hard and being honest is the key to a successful internship! Enjoy it and make the most of the opportunities handed to you during your time at the company.

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