The following is based on the experiences of a Careers Consultant who has previously managed internship programmes in a range of sectors.
When you are hired as an intern, this is typically to complete a short-term project or task over a specific period of time. If you are an intern for an SME (Small and Medium-Sized Enterprise) you may find yourself getting very involved in a number of aspects of the business. Internships in SME’s and large organisations may sometimes lead to graduate jobs.
Your host organisation will expect you to get involved, begin contributing quickly and perform professionally to the standard they expect. Essentially, they expect to try before they buy! This is also a fantastic opportunity for you to see if the job and industry you thought you would go into as a career is really the right fit for you. With this in mind, here are some tips to help you get the best out of your internship:
- Set yourself objectives before you start: It’s good to have a think about what you would also like to get out of your time there (beyond being paid!). What are the skills and competency gaps in your CV? What 2 things do you want to leave the internship having achieved?
- Make sure you know what the expectation is: Interns are sometimes surprised when they learn at the end of the internship that all had not gone as smoothly as they had presumed. It is really important you know what your manager expects of you. If in doubt, ask!
- Making mistakes: How will you know when you’re making them? What can you put into place to avoid this happening again? Who will you approach for feedback (tip: don’t just rely on your manager for feedback).
- Managing workload effectively: Your work may come from multiple people so it’s important to remember to manage your time well, prioritise the most urgent work and manage their expectations. If you’re struggling to meet a deadline, you should be transparent about this and tell people in good time – 5pm on a Friday will not leave a good impression.
- Seizing opportunities: The most important thing to remember is that you have been recruited to do a specific job. Anything over and above this is a bonus but it’s worth mentioning anything you would like to be involved in with your manager. Generally, if you’re doing what is expected of you and what you want to do doesn’t impact on the work, managers tend to be flexible.
- Being proactive: In the unlikely event of any ‘down’ time, look for work. Mention to your manager that there is a break in your workload and suggest some potential pieces of work. Be realistic about what you can achieve, however!
- Build your network: One of the best things about being in an organisation is absorbing its culture and getting to know its people. After all, these might be your future colleagues! While you are there, take the opportunity to get to know your department and pretty much anyone you can. Remember to stay in touch, which you can do through email, Linkedin or by phone.
If you want to know more about internships: http://www.ucl.ac.uk/careers/information/options/internships
Carla King, UCL Careers Consultant