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How to Get the Best Out of Your Internship

SophiaDonaldson14 March 2016

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

10 Reasons Why Graduates Sink or Swim in the Workplace

ManpreetDhesi6 October 2015

Carla King, Careers Consultant at UCL Careers, managed large-scale, high profile graduate development programmes for over seven years in industry before deciding to make the change and help UCL students. Using her experience, she has listed the top 10 reasons why Graduates Sink or Swim in the workplace.

Swimming in the Dead Sea Swimming in the Dead Sea/Christian Haugen/Flickr.com

  1. Managing Expectations

One challenge graduates face is a mismatch between their own expectations and those of their new organisation. As difficult as it can be gleaning information up front about the role,  flexibility is essential. Most graduates quickly appreciate the need to work their way up and to seize opportunities. The most successful graduates are those who embrace whatever comes at them.

  1. Integrating and building relationships

A really insightful way of integrating into an organisation quickly is to make new contacts as quickly as possible. This means speaking to people outside of your team at every available opportunity, be it after a meeting or at the coffee machine.  The more you find out what people do the quicker you will be able to link your work with theirs that may potentially benefit your team.

  1. Managing workload effectively

Whilst you are likely to have only one line manager, invariably you will be working for multiple people on a daily basis. The key thing here is to manage your time well by blocking time in your diary, ensuring you keep to deadlines and managing your stakeholders’ expectations. If you’re struggling to meet a deadline, you should be transparent and tell people in good time, ie. 5pm on a Friday will not leave a good impression.

  1. Your profile and reputation

As you begin to achieve and build on your skills, it can be easy to become complacent. Graduates will sometimes fall into the trap of either only doing the basics of what is required or falling in with a negative crowd. Be aware of the risk that may stem from not going above and beyond, and of not being discreet. Once an impression is made, it’s difficult to un-do and your reputation is likely to precede you.

  1. Seizing opportunities

With every job there are the boring bits – don’t let it put you off! Most managers are happy for you to take on things that interest you as long as it won’t impact your work. Think about what you can comfortably do without impinging on your work. What might be an obstacle to you gaining the opportunity?  What will reassure your manager?

  1. Managing upwards

One of the largest of graduate complaints is a perceived lack of management or misunderstanding. Often, managers manage other staff as well as having their own large workloads. If you would like a catch-up, or to speak to your manager about something confidential, why not put half an hour in their diary if they have not already done so? If there is a project/ area you would like to get involved with, talk to them about it – line managers are not mind-readers!

  1. Making mistakes

Graduates have to learn about a new organisation, circumvent office politics, attend skills training, master a new role, all in a very short time. It’s a very steep learning curve. Making mistakes in your first ‘real’ role is to be expected. However, the way in which you deal with mistakes is what stands you out from others. Be responsible, transparent and think of a counter-measure so it will not happen again.

  1. Challenging constructively

Most organisations will talk about needing fresh ideas.  However, it’s how you communicate those ideas that will get you heard. At university, you may be used to challenging others in a social context. In an organisational context, you have to use professional language, logical thinking, and not to be bullish in your approach.

  1. Technical vs Behavioural

Graduates sometimes believe that all they need to be is technically brilliant. However, the reality is that in every role you need to communicate, influence, work in a team, sometimes lead on a project and be motivated. You will leave university with a specific skills set but your employer has recruited you on your potential. It is only with time and experience that the workplace will give you that which will make you into a well-rounded employee. Time is your friend, not your foe.

  1. Resilience

Over your time in education, you will have received lots of feedback. However, in a work context, feedback is different. As well as commenting on your technical ability, you will also have feedback on how you behave, e.g. why didn’t you contribute in that meeting? How might you handle yourself differently? The purpose of feedback is to increase your self-awareness to help you to adapt and improve. When receiving feedback, thank the person, digest the feedback, implement it and move on.

If you need advice on what is expected of you, book a Short Guidance session with a Careers Consultant

– Carla King, Careers Consultant, UCL Careers