The Intern Files, Vol. 3: Excelling as an Intern

Congrats, you got the internship! You’ve made it through the hard part — now it’s just about living up to exceeding all expectations. You don’t want to leave just a good impression, right? Internships are more than just a one and done thing. The connections you make will come in handy in the future, whether you’re going to graduate school or getting your first job out of college. These people will be the ones who will (or won’t) recommend you. They are the people who can become mentors or even land you your next job. Needless to say, it’s important that you leave a great impression, whether it’s your first or fourth internship.

Show up prepared.

Unfortunately, first impressions do count. Showing up for your first day unprepared, a mess, and late does not make the best impression. If you’re unsure of anything, don’t be afraid to ask your manager, whether it’s how to dress or if you need to bring anything with you on your first day. In some cases, you may need to bring your driver’s license or passport to fill out employee paperwork. Otherwise, if your manager tells you that nothing is needed, it’s always a good idea to show up with a notepad and pen to take notes. To prevent being late, make sure you know how to get to the office. If you’re relying on public transportation, take a slightly earlier bus or train rather than risk being late. It’s better to show up early and have some time to kill than showing up late and flustered. Being early also allows you to collect your thoughts before the day begins — I liked to find a nearby coffee shop or park to sit with my thoughts before walking in for my first day.

Consistency is a great strength.

I think people underestimate consistency — always being early or on time, always meeting deadlines, always delivering quality work, or even always just showing up when you say you’ll be there. Consistency is the basis of reliability, and if your manager can count on you over and over again, they’ll be more likely to give you more important projects. If they know that they can depend on you as an intern, they know they can depend on you as a future employee. I remember at the end of a summer internship, my manager said to me that he really appreciated that I always showed up to work on time or early. I was one of three summer interns, and while two of us were consistently on time, one was always late. It’s such a simple thing, consistency, but as an intern it can be one of your greatest strengths. When you don’t have much experience to contribute, focus on the things you can control.

Ask questions.

Make the most of your opportunity by staying inquisitive and curious. You’re an intern — you’re expected to ask questions, so ask them. Internships are a learning opportunity, so don’t be afraid of asking dumb or too many questions. I regret not asking more questions during my internships. If you have a lot of questions about your manager’s job, the industry, or anything in general, consider setting up a time, either over lunch or just a general one-on-one, to pick their brains and learn more. Something that I didn’t do was ask other employees to lunch. It may be intimidating when people seem so busy, but everyone has to eat. Talking to other people on the team can help you learn more about other careers in the industry and may open up more opportunities for you.

This is YOUR internship.

At the end of the day, this is your internship, your opportunity. Your manager may already have projects and tasks for you in mind, but there’s also room for you to propose your own projects and get involved in things that you’re interested in. Of course, it’s a good idea to talk to your manager first before you go off doing your own thing. While there’s the possibility that they may want you to stick to their plan, it never hurts to ask — many managers understand that internships are a time of exploration, learning, and trying new things. I’ve often been asked by my managers what I’m interested in doing and what I like. If you’re not sure, don’t be afraid to admit that, and if you’re open to trying it all, make it known. You can steer the direction of your internship if you want, or at least give it a gentle nudge. At the same time, if you already know what you like, don’t necessarily close yourself off to trying other things — you may surprise yourself by finding something else you enjoy and at worst, you’ll know what else you dislike.

Reflect as you go and write down your accomplishments.

It’s easy to just turn on autopilot and cruise through your internship — I’ve been guilty of it. Instead of waiting until the very end of your internship to reflect on what you learned or maybe wished you had learned, reflect everyday. This way, if you have any questions, concerns, or requests, you can act on them instead of having regrets of “I wish I did this” or “I wish I did that” at the end. It’s also a good idea to document your tasks and accomplishments during your internship, but instead of doing this all at once at the end, write it down as you go. I kept a journal of every single day of my internships, from the things I did to the results achieved and the people I met. Call it neurotic, but when it came time to update my resume, I had no trouble listing my responsibilities and results in detail.

It’s not hard to just do an okay or good job at your internship, but an excellent job? That requires a little more effort. However, that extra effort pays off down the road. By showing how capable and curious you are, you can make up for lack of experience. Where I’ve gotten glowing reviews, I know I can count on my manager for a solid letter of recommendation. Where I’ve made strong connections, it has opened up later opportunities for me. An internship is so much more than a way to get work experience. What makes internships most powerful is their ability to be a stepping stone for your future, which involves a little bit more work after you think you’re all done. Even after your internship is over, there are some things you can do to maximize the results.

Originally published at on April 20, 2015.