I saw a McDonald’s commercial on tv a few months ago that totally frustrated me. The commercial portrays an intern as just a simple coffee runner, which is basically only what most people think interns are good for. Well, I beg to differ, McDonald’s! I personally have four internships under my belt and I can proudly say that the only times I got coffee were when I wanted to get it and not because someone ordered me to. (Snap!)
Seriously though, my internships experiences have varied from great to meh. And while most companies only offer unpaid internships or ones through your academic institution (that are usually still unpaid), you can definitely stand to benefit from the experience… as long as you do it right.
1. Look in the right places.
If you’re in school, check with your academic advisor about internship opportunities. If you’re out of school, check local job boards. Also, make sure to follow companies you’d like to work for on social media and check their career pages frequently. I would highly vote against trying your hand at Craigslist. The site itself is super sketchy, to begin with so you might end up “interning” for some guy who “owns a company” you’ve never heard of, “works from home” and requests that you take care of his “personal needs”. No, thank you.
2. Do your research before the interview.
Even though it’s just an internship, the hiring manager still wants to know how interested you are in the company. Ask real questions that open up the conversation about how you can contribute to the team. Having that pure interest right off the bat leaves a strong impression and may come in handy if a new (paid!) position opens up.
3. Bring something to the table (literally).
When interviewing for an internship, make sure you bring your portfolio with you. Even if you only have one or two projects to your name. I would also suggest showing work that is relevant to the company you’re interviewing with. For example, if you’re interviewing with a publishing company, show a project that pertains to publishing like an example article layout or ideas to spruce up their editorial calendar.
4. Gain a clear understanding of the scope of work.
If your main duties consist of being someone’s personal assistant (i.e. fetching coffee on a daily basis, pick up dry cleaning, etc.), you have my permission to walk right out of the interview. You’re no one’s go-for. Look for internships that allow you to be part of the team and contribute to projects.
5. Always be on time.
If you’re fortunate enough to land an internship, make it a point to get there on time. And when I say get there on time, I mean to get there no more than ten minutes early. Your supervisor will notice, even if they never mention it. If something holds you up (traffic, wardrobe malfunction, etc.), make sure to let your supervisor know ASAP.
6. Keep a pen and notebook (or tablet) handy.
You think you can remember those four tasks you were asked to complete by the end of the week without writing them down? Think again. Having a designated internship notebook allows you to stay on task and reference old information. It’s also useful in team meetings and one-on-one discussions with your supervisor.
7. Dress appropriately.
While the company dress code may say “business casual”, you always want to look your best at the office because you never know who you’ll meet on any given day. My standard business casual look is a clean non-graphic tee, dark skinny jeans, a blazer and some pumps (or flats). Just look like you made some sort of effort.
8. Put your phone on airplane mode.
This should go without saying, but when you’re at the office, be at the office. Remove any distractions. Your Instagram feed will still be there when you leave for the day.
9. Learn to say “No”.
If your supervisor comes to you just as you’re leaving for the day and asks you to work late or on a day that you don’t normally work, it’s okay to say no. If you feel like the extra work will give you a leg up and you actually have time to work a little more, go ahead. But you’re not obligated to say “yes” every time.
Internships may not always lead to a paying job, but in most cases, the experience will teach you more about what kind of career path you want to take and how well you work with others. I never expected to be a graphic designer working in both the commercial real estate and fashion industries, but my willingness to be open to new opportunities and absorb all the knowledge I can not only gave me great experience to add to my resume, but it also gave me the confidence to do what I love every day. Good luck!
P.S. Feel free to share your best and worst internship experiences in the comments below!