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Here Are 21 Tips To Make Sure You Make The Most Out Of Your Internship Whether Or Not It’s Paid

If you’ve landed your first internship, you are probably feeling a mix of emotions. If you’re lucky, this will be the first paying job in your industry that you’ve landed. If not, you may be working an unpaid internship, which can still pay off in connections and experience. Here are a few tips to help you make the most out of your internship.

1. Do Your Homework

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Chances are, you’ve probably already done some homework on your company just to land your internship.  However, before your first day, take a deep dive. Read news articles about your company. If you know who they are, add and check out your new boss on LinkedIn. Have the most information you can about the company’s business and culture.

2. Dress the Part

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The old adage says to dress for the job you want, not the job you have. Don’t be shy about asking your contact (probably someone in HR) what the dress code of the office is, and follow it. Remember – just because everyone else can break the rules and wear jeans on a Tuesday doesn’t mean you should. Don’t overdo it either – the goal of choosing your outfits should generally be to blend in.

3. Make a Good First Impression

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When you first meet your new coworkers, be friendly and approachable. Shake hands. Use your manners that your mom no doubt taught you.

4. Show Up on Time

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This goes without saying, but as an intern, you should always be on time. If you have to be late, fess up honestly and professionally. Send your boss a polite, professional email with your estimated time of arrival. Don’t even think about saying that your grandma died, the cab crashed, or the bus was late. Apologize and be there as soon as possible.

5. Treat it Like a Real Job

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Even if you aren’t getting paid, you need to treat your internship like it’s your first real job. First of all, it is. Second of all, if you show great work ethic, creativity, skills, and the ability to work efficiently in a team, it may become your first real job. At a minimum, you’ll rack up lots of people who will be happy to give you a reference.

6. Clarify Your Responsibilities

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Meet with your boss early and often to discuss exactly what your job responsibilities are. You want to be productive and as helpful as possible, and clarifying your role and responsibilities will help you make sure you aren’t spending your days bored out of your mind, or over your head.

7. Listen, Listen Listen

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Take a cue from Lin Manuel Miranda and talk less, smile more. While you shouldn’t be afraid to speak up at the right time, internships are all about learning. Listen to your coworkers, and learn as much as you can.

8. Ask Good Questions

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Listening well pays off. If you are listening, you will be better able to ask thoughtful questions. Asking questions is a great time to get clarification, but also show that you have been listening and learning.

9. Follow Office Etiquette

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Don’t be afraid to ask questions about the way an office runs. Not sure who gets the front parking spots? Ask. Not sure if the donuts in the break room are fair game. Don’t be afraid to ask – you may save yourself some cringe-worthy embarrassing moments.

10. Be Easy To Work With

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Everyone gets it – work can suck sometimes, especially if you are at the bottom of the totem pole. However, if you are negative all the time, no one will want to work with you and your internship will likely be a dud. Try to be positive and helpful, and leave the personal drama at home.

11. Don’t be Afraid to Do a Little Dirty Work

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While hopefully, your internship doesn’t read like a script from “Horrible Bosses,” don’t be above fetching coffee or other things that may be outside of what you think you should be doing. However, if your bosses’ behavior crosses into harassment or abuse, speak to HR.

12. Proofread Your Work

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Nothing will make you want to stab yourself in the eye or bang your head against a desk than sending a poorly worded email to, say, the entire office. Be careful about hitting that “reply all” button, and read everything over once before you hit send. Don’t put anything in writing that you wouldn’t want the entire company (or the company’s clients) to read.

13. Ask for Feedback

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Schedule regular check-ins with your boss. Ask to adjust your responsibilities if you want to take on more work. Accept any criticism with grace, and work on a plan to improve.

14. Find a Mentor

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This can take time, but find someone who you can click with to be your mentor. Mentors are invaluable in their ability to steer you in the right direction and the beginning of your career and many will stay with you after your internship is over.

15. Ask for More Work

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If you aren’t busy enough, check in with your boss and ask for more work. Don’t be a huge pest to your coworkers, however. Check-in, but don’t be a nuisance. If your department doesn’t have anything for you at the moment, ask if you can shadow someone in another department. Knowing how all aspects of a company works is valuable.

16. Read Industry Publications

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Read trade magazines, blogs, and other publications. This will help you feel less clueless if you are included in meetings or asked to work on projects. Knowing industry-standard terms of art can help you get by, but don’t be afraid to ask what someone is or means if you don’t understand.

17. Attend Training Sessions

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Many companies offer free lectures, seminars, or lunchtime training sessions. Take advantage of every one of these you can. Not only will it help you get to know your current company, but it will also give you experience and knowledge you can add to your résumé.

18. Be Social

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It goes without saying that networking is one of the most critical parts of an internship. Getting to know people and making positive impressions leads to references and jobs. Make sure to attend office social events like happy hours, parties, and retreats if at all possible. Keep it professional though.

19. Stay Off Social Media

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Like it or not, there is a stereotype for millennials that they are glued to their phones. Defy the stereotype. Check your phone on breaks, but don’t be glued to your phone, even if your coworkers are. Stay focused and attentive to your job.

20.  Ask for References

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Before you leave your internship, capitalize on all your hard work by asking your boss and coworkers if you can use them as a reference, and what contact information is best. Consider asking one or two people for a letter of reference to add to your files.

21. Reflect on Your Experience

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This is an incredibly important part of your internship. If you found that you hated every moment of your internship, consider exploring a different type of job in the same field. Consider what things you did like, and didn’t and seek out opportunities that best fit your skills and passion.


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