Five Ways to Make the Most of Your Internship

Each summer we see an infusion of fresh energy in the office, which means that intern season has officially kicked off! The Bay Area increases by a few thousand students looking to work on some of the most challenging but intellectually satisfying problems in the world.

Square is fortunate to welcome interns this summer from various schools around the US and Canada who will work in functions across the company, including software, mechanical and electrical engineering, product management, design, hardware, and operations, to name a few. A few of our former interns have written about their experiences at Square — take a look here and here.

Regardless of what field or function you’re working in, below are some tips to make the most of your internship:

  1. Be prepared for a two-way conversation

Congratulations! You’ve secured a spot at a company with a mission you feel passionate about.

While you are there to do a specific job and contribute to the best of your ability, it is equally important that you come to the internship with your own goals and expectations.

Schedule a 1:1 meeting with your manager in your first few weeks and come prepared so you can fully own that meeting. Talk about the reasons why you decided to join the company, what you’ve learned in school, and ideas you have on your given project. You can also discuss any stretch goals you may have outside of your core responsibilities, such as helping out on another team, presenting work on a specific topic, or gaining more insight into a project. You may not be able to delve into every area that you want by the end of the summer, but at least you’ve expressed interest and initiative. Your manager will help point you in the right direction — they, too, want you to be engaged and leave the internship with a positive experience.

2. Understand how your work is contributing to the larger team or company

It’s likely that your internship work is one piece of a larger puzzle, but that doesn’t make it any less important. From the outset, understand how your specific contribution fits within the larger scope of a company project or roadmap, and how it ladders up to the overall initiatives. Having that “zoom in / zoom out” quality is an important trait that many executives possess, and it’s beneficial to work on this frame of mind early in your career. Quantify that contribution as much as possible: did you make a system ___% efficient? Did you launch a product ahead of time by __ number of days or week? Did you save $___ on an initiative? This will also help you when updating your resume at the completion of your internship.

3. Network, network, network!

Being inside a company is a unique experience wherein you have access to all of your fellow employees. While your work is always the priority, take advantage of this amazing opportunity to meet with as many people as you can! Before you begin outreach, ask your manager what typical protocol is. Each company will have its own culture and levels of transparency. For example, some CEOs are open to interns reaching out to them directly to schedule a coffee chat, while others are more formal and meet with people based on titles. Outside of executives, take the time to meet with other interns (many companies have social programs in place for interns to meet), managers, and teams outside of your own — you never know what you’ll discover by meeting with someone who works on a team you’d never even considered. The phrase “I’m new” is an amazing conversation tool!

Once you’ve left your internship, keep in touch with the people you’ve made the closest connections to (including your manager). LinkedIn is a wonderful tool to manage contacts, and you will be amazed at how small the world is: six degrees of separation really do apply.

4. Get to know your recruiting team

Recruiting teams work very hard each year to bring the best and brightest talent to their company. They are likely the first people you’ll speak with, and do the backend work to ensure you have a smooth onboard and experience.

Your recruiter should stay connected with you through the summer, but if that’s not the case, proactively reach out to them. Talk about your options and timeframe in case you’d like to return for another internship or even full-time after graduation. The more you are on their mind, the stronger they will advocate for you. Recruiters are also goldmines of advice — it can be helpful to hear their perspective on what drew them to the company and any advice they have for you to be successful.

5. Treat this as an exploratory period and have fun!

This may be one of the only times in your life where you can work at a company for a few months without any obligation to stay. Choosing an internship can be similar to evaluating colleges: big vs. small, focus area, student body culture, and location, amongst other factors.

Use this time at your internship to first determine if this is the right company and industry for you. Then take a close look at the culture: do they value the same things you do? Do you feel included and part of the community? If the answer is yes, then hopefully you’ve found where you want to start your career. If the answer is no, you can move on to another internship without any repercussions. You’ll spend a great portion of your adult life at work, so it’s important to ensure you are making the right decisions for yourself. What is right for you will not be the same as anyone else, so embrace your uniqueness — it’s what got you to where you are now!

Saqi Mehta leads the University Recruiting team at Square, visiting schools around the country to bring the next generation of talent to the company. She is passionate about all things education and is co-founder of ReigningIt which brings awareness to diversity in STEM by profiling other womens’ stories. Saqi also writes for the Huffington Post, Daily Muse and Blavity amongst other contributions. In any non-typing free time she is an art, interior design, and travel enthusiast. Say hi to her on Twitter!