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3 Habits of Successful Interns (and Internship Programs)

Topics: Career Advice

Internship programs can seem daunting, especially when they’re new. It’s a good idea to think about what you’re getting into, whether you’re a manager overseeing a new program or a prospective intern looking for an opportunity of a lifetime. A little preparation can make sure that everyone gets what they want out of the experience.


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1. Know Your Goals

For managers: Know what do you want interns to actually accomplish at the office, before they arrive. Remember that internships for college credit have to be for the educational benefit of the interns, so no fair sticking them by the copy machine all day long. If they’re working on a specific project, what do you want them to contribute?

For interns: Just like in Stephen R. Covey’s classic 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, interns also need to “begin with the end in mind.” What’s the point of the internship? What do you hope to get out of the experience? Hopefully, you’re not just after college credit. Showing up every day is hardly a goal in life. Use this opportunity to actually add to your resume. Maybe you’re after boosting your software skills or portfolio. If anything, you should be keen on talking to and meeting as many professionals as possible. Keep your eyes on the prize: building a network that will support your career after graduation.

2. Ask the Right Questions

For managers: When you’re looking for an intern, make sure you’re not hiring willy-nilly. You should be interviewing a range of candidates, and asking them a wide range of questions.

For interns: If you’re after an internship, get all the details on the program from the get-go. Find out if the position is paid (it might not have to be) and who you’ll be working for. If the program is vague or undefined, that might be a red flag that the employer doesn’t have a good idea of how to use an intern, and you might be sitting around with nothing to do too often.

Once you’re in an internship, ask questions about how things work. Getting to see how the sausage is made is an especially good learning experience for an intern. Don’t take that opportunity for granted.

3. Keep Expectations Realistic

For managers: Are you running an internship program in order to test out an employee before you hire them? Especially when recruiting recent college grads, an internship can be a good way to test out potential hires who may not have much in the resume department, but who could be great assets. But, if you’re not running that kind of game, and there isn’t any chance of a full-time (paying) gig when the time is up, be upfront so that feelings won’t get hurt.

For interns: If you’re in an internship, be sure to take all this into account while you’re there. Be professional (this is the real world, after all) and even if you don’t get hired at the end, you’ll likely be lining up a great set of professional references to add to that new section on your resume. If you expect to be given a job just because you’re a warm body, you might be sorely disappointed at the end of it all.

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