Starting Your First Internship

Part Two of eCollegeFinder’s Two-Part Internship Series

Now that you’ve learned how to land your first internship from the first part of our internship series, it’s time to prepare yourself for success in your new position. Though every internship will have its unique characteristics, you can use this post to get a general idea of what to expect, what to bring, and what to do once you start your first internship.


 

What to Expect

A Training-Filled First Week

The majority of internships will start slow. Your first week will likely be filled with meet-and-greets, training, organizational tasks like setting up your company email address, and introductions to new responsibilities. Don’t jump ship if things are boring or difficult in the beginning. The first few days are generally not typical to how the rest of the internship will go, so allow yourself some time to acclimate.

Some Tedious Tasks

Since you’re new to the company and the industry in general, you may not be trusted with a ton of responsibility right away. While you’re learning, expect to be given some menial tasks to keep you busy. Stereotypes sometimes exist for a reason – you will probably be asked to grab coffee for the big-wigs at some point.

Responsibility

Your internship should be a good mix of picking up skills and paying your dues. While some of the tasks you’re assigned will be busywork, you should also be learning and completing more challenging tasks. Internships are meant to provide you with the opportunity to try out your chosen field and gain some real-world experience. If your internship isn’t helping you grow, talk to your supervisor about taking on some additional responsibility.

Some Self-Starting

At times, you may complete work faster than your employer anticipates. Instead of just biding your time until you receive the next assignment, ask your supervisor for additional responsibility. If there isn’t extra work to take on, create your own. For example, suggest a new project or spend some time reorganizing your current tasks to make the processes you follow more efficient. Wow the company with your enthusiasm and proactivity.

A Learning Opportunity

In order to get the most out of your internship, you’ll need to treat your entire time at work as a learning opportunity. Challenge yourself and ask as many questions as possible on the way. However, avoid being overbearing with your questions. Do your own research when you can – your supervisor has work to get done too!

Compensation

Every internship should provide you with a good learning experience, but that shouldn’t be your only compensation. You can expect that your internship will also reward you in more tangible ways. For example, you may be compensated with college credits, a stipend, regular pay, or other perks.

Networking Opportunities

Internships provide solid networking opportunities. Keep in mind that the contacts you meet in the field could be very helpful when it comes time to start your career. Be sure to nurture these relationships and keep in touch when your internship ends. As in any relationship, networking is about both give and take. Don’t just use your colleagues; offer your talents and connections to them as well.

Structure

Though you’re a student, you’ll still be expected to show up on time and complete work on time as others employees do. Treat your internship as regular, structured employment. However, depending on the company, you may see some flexibility in your schedule and assignments.

Confusion

Since this will be your first internship, you won’t be expected to know EVERYTHING right away. Don’t stress about asking questions or not being perfect the first time. Mistakes will happen. Remember, you’re there to learn.

Stress

In a good internship, you’ll be pushing your limits and continuously growing. This can be stressful sometimes, but as long as you do your best and ask questions when you’re unsure, you should be just fine! Stay organized and on top of your work to make the experience as easy-going as possible. If your internship is unreasonably stressful, talk to your supervisor.

A Few Sour Experiences

Your new position may not be exactly what you envisioned, but try to power through. An internship has the potential to show you the path you’d like to follow in your career, but it could just as easily help you learn which types of jobs you’d prefer to avoid.
 

What to Bring

Personal Info

On your first day, you’ll probably need to bring your driver’s license and other forms of identification for tax purposes, such as a social security card, birth certificate, or passport, or a visa if you are from a foreign country. You may also need to bring internship paperwork from your college for your employer to fill out. Check with both your new employer and your school to make sure you bring all the necessary documents the first day. Be ready to fill out some forms!

Pen & Notebook

Bring a pen and notebook to take notes your first week just in case you’re not provided with these materials right away.

Nourishment

During the first week, you’ll still be determining what the lunch situation is at your job. Play it safe and pack lunch, a snack, and a water bottle. Bring some cash or a credit card as well. Your new coworkers may want to bond over a lunch out – don’t pass up this opportunity.

 

What to Do

Prepare for Your First Day

Before your first day, plan and practice your driving route. Also, find out where you’ll be parking and if there is a charge to park there. Anticipate traffic or other obstacles and arrive to work early.

Dress to Impress

Before your first day, ask your employer about the way interns are expected to dress, since your dress code may be different than other employees’. Keep in mind that professional attire shows ambition, so, especially during the first week, it’s better to overdress than underdress. As the saying goes, if you’d like to advance, dress for the job you want, not the job you have.

Set Goals and Track Your Progress

Setting goals and tracking your progress will help to set you up for success. Aside from the personal satisfaction you’ll get from achieving your objectives, being able to show your employer how you attained your goals will help you prove your worth. A clear plan and record of progress will also help you secure employment after your internship ends with either the company you interned for or another organization. Even if you don’t reach your objectives, your records will help you explain what went wrong and how you can work to be successful in the future.

Ask Questions and Learn

This cannot be stressed enough! Ask questions. Learn. Become a mentee. Soak up everything you can. You should constantly be seeking critiques on your work to find out what you’ve done right and what you could be doing better.

To get the most out of your internship, your job should have your full attention. Focusing on your responsibilities and learning opportunities at work will be easier if you don’t check personal emails, texts, or take personal phone calls on the job.

Practice Workplace Politics

Keep in mind that you’re the new guy (or girl). Chances are you’ve got a lot to learn, so don’t be a know-it-all. You should feel comfortable sharing your ideas, but be sure that you’re respecting your supervisors as the experienced professionals they are.

Work on establishing good relationships by learning company policies and abiding by them. Don’t step on anyone’s toes at work and don’t badmouth your coworkers or company. This applies not only to word of mouth, but also to Twitter, Facebook, or anywhere else your complaints might be seen. Related to this thought, it’s probably not the best idea to add your supervisor or coworkers on Facebook. Connect on LinkedIn instead to keep your social media relationships professional.

Keep a Good Attitude and Be Flexible

A good attitude can take you far, so keep a smile on your face and stay positive and proactive. Make sure to leave any issues in your personal life at home in order to better focus on your work. Confidence can also give you a boost among your coworkers, even if you have to fake it until you make it.

Internships will vary in how they are structured and what is expected of you. Despite normal protocol, you should plan to graciously put in a little extra effort in order to get more in return. Know that you may not be able to leave right at five every day and that every task you complete may not be on your list of official responsibilities. Be flexible. In addition to gaining valuable experience, you may be rewarded in other ways for going the extra mile. For instance, it may land you a permanent position with the company or may earn you extra pay or perks. If you’re pushed too far out of your comfort zone with extra work, talk to your supervisor about a compromise.

Get Closure and Ask for Recommendations

Start planning for your internship to end about a month in advance. Make sure you’ve wrapped up all your responsibilities before your time with the company is over and ask for a formal parting evaluation/exit interview. This is important for your own growth and performance in future internships, and will also help the company grow and determine some valuable dos and do nots for future interns. If all goes well, the company may even ask you to stick around for a second internship or full-time job upon graduation.

After your internship ends, send a thank you note to your supervisors. Keep in touch with coworkers and connect with them via LinkedIn if you haven’t already. Your hard work in cultivating relationships during your internship shouldn’t end when your time at the company does. As we mentioned before, a well-developed network of people in your field can be a huge advantage when it comes to finding employment later.
 

Did you find these tips helpful? Do you have anything to add? Are you or have you ever been part of an internship program? Let us know in the comment section below!

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