Approaches to excel in your tech internship or new grad role

Navigating an internship or stepping into the professional world as a new graduate can be both exciting and challenging. This write-up is designed to help you excel and increase your odds of securing a return offer or ramping up quickly.

Ben Cheung
World of Cultivation
12 min readApr 12, 2024


Last Updated: April 11, 2024

A ChatGPT-generated cyberpunk cityscape viewed from the rooftop of a highrise building

As a rather seasoned internship enjoyer and a new grad with around 1 year of experience, I felt that it was a great time to share some insight built over the past few years to enable future interns and new grads to be able to build their strategies to maximize success.

We will be covering some takeaways and approaches that I’ve found successful over my four internships described in the Tech Internships & New Grad Handbook (Check it out if you are looking for an internship / new grad role).

What does this article cover?

  • Defining success in an internship or early career / new grad role
  • Key tips for success in general
  • Achieving success in your internships
  • Achieving success in an early career or as a new grad
  • Concluding thoughts
  • Let’s get in touch!

Defining success in an internship or early career / new grad role

Let’s start by defining what success means for us. In my case, I would define an internship as successful if we achieve the following:

Intern Success Criteria

  • Learning and Growth: Achieving success means you’ve gained new skills and knowledge that are relevant to your field.
  • Building Networks: You’ve made meaningful connections with colleagues, mentors, and peers that will support your professional development.
  • Delivering Impact: You have completed significant projects or deliverables that demonstrate your capabilities and have real-world impact.
  • Reflection and Pride: You feel proud of your accomplishments and the work you’ve contributed during your internship.

Above, I’ve listed some general success criteria that I would like to have completed in an internship. This means that throughout the internship, I’ve been able to challenge myself, pick up something new, and be able to deliver/build an impactful project that I can talk about. It also means that I’m able to stay connected with my team, co-workers, and fellow interns even after the internship is over.

The reason for this success criteria is that, in my opinion, an internship is a period for you to pick up the processes, tooling, and general culture around companies that you intern with. It’s a chance to explore different types of work environments and discover which areas you want to work in. To be able to use the internship as a way to discover your likes/dislikes is incredibly valuable. (ie. You try out a dev-ops internship and realize you don’t like it.)

To be able to ship and build products that you are proud of is also pretty important. If you can discuss what you’ve accomplished at your internship, it will help a lot in job searches.

New Grad Success Criteria

  • Quick Ramp Up: Success involves understanding your role and responsibilities quickly and becoming productive early in your tenure.
  • Building Trustworthy Relationships: Establishing strong, reliable relationships with your manager and coworkers is crucial, as these relationships can define your work environment and support your career growth.
  • Setting Personal Goals & Professional Goals: Develop a plan to master necessary tools, codebases, etc. Create a goal on what you want to achieve during your time at the company.

For new grads, it’s a little more complicated. The new grad success criteria are more heavily weighted at the beginning and ramp-up period (usually during the probation period). I would determine a new grad to be successful if they can quickly ramp up with their team, integrate themselves within the team’s culture, and able to become productive as early as possible.

Each of the success criteria complements each other as being able to ramp up quickly and be integrated with the rest of the team with a solid understanding of the team processes, helps in building trust with your manager and coworkers. Establishing trust earlier on and building these relationships is incredibly important. You need to build a support network in which you can lean on the team for help if needed.

Success Criteria Takeaways

In general, these are just some high-level success criteria we can use to guide our internship / new grad efforts. There are more specific strategies that we can apply to each internship / early career role.

Key tips for success in general

This section will highlight the common key tips for success that can apply to both internships and new grad roles. In any professional setting, certain foundational practices are crucial for success. Whether you are entering an internship or starting as a new graduate, the following key tips will help you excel in your role. This section covers essential strategies for managing expectations, effective communication, and thorough documentation.


  • Managing expectations
  • Communication
  • Documentation

Managing Expectations

  1. Understand Your Role: Begin by clarifying your role and responsibilities. Have a detailed discussion with your manager about what is expected of you in terms of outputs, behavior, and professional development.
  2. Set Realistic Goals: Based on the understanding of your role, set achievable, clear goals. Regularly review these goals with your manager to ensure they remain aligned with team objectives and personal growth.
  3. Seek Clarity: Whenever in doubt, ask questions. Ensuring that you fully understand the tasks at hand and the results expected can prevent missteps and improve your performance.


  1. Regular Updates: Keep your manager and team informed about your progress and any challenges you face. This not only demonstrates your commitment but also opens up avenues for support.
  2. Active Listening: Pay close attention during meetings and one-on-one sessions. Listening actively can help you grasp nuances and expectations that may not be explicitly stated.
  3. Constructive Feedback: Learn how to give and receive feedback effectively. Embrace constructive criticism as a tool for personal and professional growth and be prepared to adjust your approach based on this feedback.


  1. Track Your Work: Maintain a detailed record of your projects, tasks, and learning experiences. This can be invaluable for reviewing your performance and setting future objectives. I usually recommend using Notion or a Google Doc. Anything easy for you to use to track your day-to-day and important notes, team processes, commands, etc.
  2. Project Documentation: For every project, keep comprehensive documentation that can be easily understood by someone new to the project. This includes coding documentation, project reports, and user guides.
  3. Reflective Journaling: Consider keeping a personal journal where you reflect on your daily experiences, challenges, and what you’ve learned. This can provide insights into your professional development and areas requiring attention.

Applying These Practices

Implementing these key tips requires consistent effort and mindfulness about your professional habits. By focusing on managing expectations, communicating effectively, and maintaining thorough documentation, you can build a strong foundation for a successful career. These practices not only help you perform well in your current role but also prepare you for future challenges and opportunities in the tech industry.

Achieving success in your internships/new grad role

An internship serves as a crucial learning and evaluation period where you and the company can assess mutual compatibility in terms of culture and technical proficiency. Here’s how to make the most of this opportunity.

Understanding the Internship as an Extended Interview

  1. Limited Time Frame: Recognize that you have a finite period to make a significant impact. Plan your goals and key accomplishments from day one to ensure you fully utilize your time.
  2. Dual Evaluation: Keep in mind that while you are being assessed on your fit and capabilities, you are also evaluating the company’s culture, values, and whether it aligns with your career aspirations.

Maximizing Your Internship Experience

  1. Showcase Your Skills: Focus on demonstrating your technical skills and ability to learn quickly. Take on challenges and deliver solutions that highlight your unique contributions.
  2. Adapt to Culture: Embrace the company’s culture. Engage with team members, participate in company events, and show your enthusiasm for the workplace environment.
  3. Seek Feedback: Regularly ask for feedback on your performance. Use this as a guide to refine your approach and address any areas of improvement.
  4. Network Intentionally: Build meaningful relationships with colleagues at all levels. Networking isn’t just about professional gain; it’s about understanding the industry, gaining insights, and finding mentors who can guide you.

Delivering Tangible Results

  1. Complete Key Projects: Make sure you complete at least one significant project during your internship that you can discuss in future job interviews. This should demonstrate both your ability to complete tasks and to drive results.
  2. Document Your Achievements: Keep a detailed record of what you have accomplished, the skills you have used and developed, and the impact of your work. This documentation will be invaluable during your final evaluation and for future job applications.

Internship TODOs Recommendations

With the general advice out of the way, let’s dive into specific TODOs I suggest to interns looking to maximize their chances of getting a return offer.

Schedule 1:1s with everyone on your immediate team, sister team, and any teams your team works closely with.

The beginning of your internship is a great time to schedule 1:1s. You will be ramping up and it’s a great way to build your support network and generally get to know who you will be working with the next 4–8 months. By introducing yourself and setting up these 1:1s, you also open the door for reaching out for help later on in your internship. If you don’t do this, it might be a bit more awkward to reach out in the future especially if they are on your team but you haven’t introduced yourself yet.

Communicate your goals with your manager.

Usually, at your internship, your manager is your #1 advocate. You need to ensure that they know your expectations and goals coming in. Are you trying to get a return offer? Discuss in a 1:1 with your manager and set expectations. Discuss what steps are necessary to reach your goal and what objectives should be completed to build a strong case for them to present when it comes time to discuss return offers.

Create a Google Doc/Notion on the first day of your internship. You should be noting down everything you find relevant. Commands, key docs, etc. Also document your day-to-day, project links, TDDs, resources, 1:1s, etc.

This goes back to the documentation point. It’s super important to note everything down. Track everything. It helps you with the day-to-day and generally keeping track of all your accomplishments and work you’ve done. You can take these to team meetings, standups, or for your end-of-internship presentation to help guide you on your progress reports/project progress.

Be communicative and transparent to your team. Be sure to be actively communicating any blockers, how you’ve attempted to resolve the blockers, and any questions you might have.

Your manager and perhaps your team / other stakeholders must be aware of any blockers you are facing. As an intern, you need to demonstrate that you can unblock yourself or flag blockers early to get rid of them. By raising them early in a transparent manner and also including a list of steps you have taken to unblock yourself — you are showing ownership and accountability for your tasks. You are taking the initiative to unblock yourself and it is appreciated that you have done everything in your power to unblock rather than just asking for help directly with no attempt to resolve the blocker yourself.

Ask questions and reach out to your team for help if needed.

Similar to blockers, for any questions or issues — you should reach out to your team. Preferably in a team channel, so the rest of the team can also learn from your question or community crowdsource the answer. Similarly to blockers, you should attempt it first and include steps you’ve taken and approaches to the solution you have tried. It’s better to ask more questions than to sit in silence and spend 10+ hours trying to solve something you could have asked to unblock.

Onboarding — during your onboarding, note down any improvements and contribute!

Onboarding is a great opportunity for you to do your first contribution / PR! It can be as simple as updating the onboarding docs, changing some READMEs, adding debug cases, etc. Onboarding usually can have issues and it’s a great opportunity for someone new to add and improve the existing onboarding process. Suggestions are usually welcome and by contributing, you are enabling the next person who onboards a smoother experience. Remember, any way you can provide more value to the company will help you in the long run for return offers, etc.

Look for opportunities to provide more value.

Opportunity is everywhere in a company. You need to just find opportunities to provide value if you can. The onboarding example is usually a low-hanging fruit anyone can do which is why it’s recommended the most. However, you can always be looking to suggest improvements to team processes, automate away tedious manual tasks, or suggest new projects. You are an intern, but also a member of the team.

Look for opportunities to make your manager and your team’s lives easier.

Similarly to looking for opportunities to provide value. Any way you can make your manager’s or team’s workload lighter or easier is a huge positive.

Communicate the project process and be sure to be visible.

Usually, as an intern, you can be assigned an intern project or be assigned Jira tickets as part of the larger team’s workflow. Ensure that you are properly communicating your progress. Ensure that all your progress is visible and documented. For Jira tickets, you can always maintain a history in the Jira yourself documenting your progress. If you get stuck, always add your attempts and research into the ticket. Ensure you maintain this documentation for visibility. You don’t want low visibility in your work and cause team members or your manager to suspect that you aren’t holding your weight.


An internship is a great opportunity for you to try working for a company and learn. You can use these opportunities to push yourself and build strong relationships with those already in the industry. So, do your best — be communicative, and look to add value while enjoying the internship. Be sure to have fun! :)

Achieving success in an early career or as a new grad

Starting your career as a new graduate presents unique challenges and opportunities. While similar to an internship in terms of learning and growth, the focus in a full-time role shifts towards long-term development and integration within the company.

Understanding the Transition from Intern to Full-Time Professional

  1. Long-Term Perspective: Unlike an internship, your early career stage isn’t about proving yourself for a short-term offer but about establishing yourself as a valuable long-term asset to the team.
  2. Building Foundations: This period is critical for laying down the foundations of professional relationships that will support your career progression.

Maximizing Your Early Career Growth

  1. Deepen Relationships: Go beyond initial connections to build deeper, more trustworthy relationships with colleagues and supervisors. These relationships will be pivotal as you seek larger responsibilities and aim for promotions.
  2. Consistent Performance: Demonstrate your reliability by consistently delivering high-quality work. Your performance in these early stages will often set the tone for how you are perceived within the organization.

Proactively Seeking Opportunities

  1. Ask for More Complex Projects: As you grow more comfortable and capable in your role, actively seek out more challenging assignments that can stretch your skills and showcase your potential for higher responsibilities.
  2. Visibility: Make your achievements and capabilities known. Participate in high-visibility projects or committees where you can contribute meaningfully and get noticed by higher management.

Building Trust Through Accountability

  1. Deliver on Commitments: Build trust by meeting deadlines and fulfilling promises. This reliability will make you a go-to person for important projects and responsibilities.
  2. Feedback and Adaptation: Continuously seek feedback and be willing to adapt based on it. This shows your commitment to personal and professional growth and readiness to tackle more complex challenges.

Preparing for Career Advancement

  1. Understand Promotion Criteria: Learn what it takes to advance in your role. This might include specific performance metrics, additional training, or taking on leadership roles within projects.
  2. Mentorship and Networking: Engage with mentors who can provide guidance, feedback, and support as you navigate your career path. Continue to expand your professional network internally and externally.

Reflecting and Planning for the Future

  1. Regular Self-Assessment: Evaluate your progress and areas for improvement. Set clear career goals and periodically review them with your manager to ensure alignment with your team’s objectives and your aspirations.
  2. Career Development: Take advantage of professional development opportunities offered by your employer, such as workshops, training sessions, and conferences, to enhance your skills and knowledge.

By focusing on these key areas, you can effectively navigate the early stages of your career, build strong professional relationships, and set a trajectory toward future promotions and increased responsibilities.

Concluding thoughts

That’s the end of this writeup. Hopefully, you’ve found it helpful! In the end, internships and new grad roles are very similar. It’s a chance to show that you can be competent and trusted. These approaches will help, but in the end, be sure to be able to deliver what you have committed to deliver.

Let’s get in touch!

Hi! You reached the end! Congrats on making it through this guide. I hope that it has provided some insight and can better inform your decision!

I’m looking forward to seeing more of your success stories!