Spring Interns: Tips for Your First Month

This week many of you are beginning internships. Whether it’s your first or your fifth, starting off on the right foot can help build strong relationships and maybe even land a job down the road.

Set Goals

I know what you’re thinking, but goals are important going in to an internship. You may be going into a very structured internship experience, but there is a better chance that the experience will be flexible.  Before you walk in the door, consider:

–       What skills do you want to pick up along the way?
–       What major projects/initiatives/events do you want to be a part of?
–       What work do you want to generate for your portfolio?
–       How can you build lasting relationships with your coworkers?

Your goals will likely change as the semester goes on, but this can help you ensure you benefit from the experience.

Talk to Your Boss About Your Goals

This may sound intimidating, especially if you are in a pretty laid back setting. But this is huge. If you’re not sure who your direct supervisor is- just ask. Set up a short meeting to find out:

–       Who do you come to with questions?
–       Who assigns you projects?
–       What are his/her expectations of you from day to day?

And let them know some of the things you are excited to do. You don’t need to dump your full list of goals on them at once. But let them know what you are most excited to learn about or be a part of. Even if you discussed this in your interview, reiterate it now.

Write Things Down

Always show up to meetings with a pen and paper (or iPad, whatever works for you).  Make note of procedures, projects, deadlines… even names of who does what at the company.  It will show you respect the other person’s time, are a professional, and will save you from having to go back and ask repeat questions.

Introduce Yourself

If you’re lucky, someone will take you around your department to introduce you to people. If not, take it upon yourself. Always be respectful of others’ workloads and ask if it’s a good time before you jump in. But you don’t want to be the intern who fades into the background. People should know you.

Ask Questions, but Troubleshoot First

It’s better to ask a question than to make a huge mistake, but for the small stuff, see if you can troubleshoot on your own first.  Supervisors love a good problem solver.

Make the Best Coffee… but Don’t Stop There

If you have to get coffee, make it the best coffee anyone has ever had! The reality is that most students have to prove themselves for a few weeks before getting more substantial responsibilities. Think of how you make the most of those tasks, but eventually start thinking of how you can show initiative. When you run out of projects, ask for more work. Even better, suggest projects you can take on, like a new organization system, a new form of outreach, or any other small but important projects that will make an impact.

We in the Portfolio Center know the importance of completing meaningful internships. If you want to do an internship and earn college credit at Columbia, you have two options. Contact the appropriate internship coordinator to learn more about organizations Columbia already has a partnership with and how you can apply for credit-bearing internships. Or, you can find an internship opportunity on your own and connect with your internship coordinator to see if it could qualify for credit.

If you don’t want to do an internship for college credit, research organizations that interest you, or check out ColumbiaWorks or Internships.com for some ideas.

As you know, we are here to help you prepare your resume, cover letter, and portfolio. Set up a one-on-one appointment when you are ready for feedback on these items.