Internships—there’s no doubt that they’re a crucial stepping stone to gaining experience and landing your first job. But how do you stand out from everyone else so that you can get a fantastic recommendation or possibly be hired on?
As someone who has both been an intern (who was eventually hired on as a full-time employee) and who has managed interns, I can tell you that it’s truly all about your attitude.
When you’re an intern, nobody expects you to know everything (or anything, really), so your most valuable skills are a positive attitude and a willingness to do what it takes to help the team succeed. Because those are the types of people companies want to hire and keep. Yes, you have to do good work, but nobody is perfect, and it’s how you handle the tasks thrown at you that will truly set you apart.
Here are a five ways you can make a great impression and put yourself on the path to getting the job you want.
#1. Be willing to learn and take feedback with an open mind.
When you’re in college or just graduating, you think you know everything you need to know to be successful in the working world (at least I certainly did!). While you may have the right technical skills, you actually don’t know anything about how the company works. Every place has their own way of doing things, their own best practices and their own systems, so be willing to learn from everyone around you.
It’s also important that you learn from your mistakes. You will make mistakes and screw up—it happens to everyone. But what’s important is that you take all feedback with a positive attitude, learn from those mistakes and move on by not making the same mistake twice. It’ll be how you take and learn from that feedback that will impress your team, not necessarily how smart you are.
#2. Build relationships with everyone.
From the receptionist to the CEO and everyone in between, you never know who could be your biggest advocate, help you out when you screw up (and you will) or teach you important work/life lessons. Anyone who works for the company is important and has valuable knowledge of how things work. So don’t dismiss anyone simply because you may not directly work with them. You also never know who’s in their network – maybe they know someone who can help you find a job down the line.
#3. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had interns or new employees take a project, work on it for hours and hours with the end result completely missing the mark. All because they were too afraid to ask questions or check in to make sure they were on the right track for fear of looking stupid or wasting my time.
As a manager, I’m more impressed when my interns or employees ask questions along the way–it shows they’re willing to learn, take feedback and also saves time if they are going down the wrong track.
#4. Never say “That’s not my job.”
As an intern, you’re the low man on the totem pole. While it’s your employer’s responsibility to provide you with an experience that allows you to learn and grow your skillset, sometimes making copies or getting coffee is what’s needed to help the team. Don’t forget, you’re there to help the company, not the other way around. I’d rather work with someone who’s willing to do whatever it takes to help the team than the smartest person who thinks they’re above doing certain tasks. Nobody is above taking out the trash every once and awhile.
#5. Be honest with your boss.
Whether you made a small error or a major mistake, it’s important to own up to it. When you admit that you’ve made a mistake, you show that you’re trustworthy and reliable.
Also, you don’t get what you don’t ask for. If you’re not learning what you thought you would or want to learn something new, just ask. The worst thing that can happen is they say no, but you’d be surprised at how many supervisors are willing to let you help with a project if you show an interest.
Every internship is different, but every company wants to hire people who are trustworthy, reliable and willing to do what it takes to help the team.
When I was an intern, I took on every project I could. I learned from supervisors and from my peers, supported the team with what they needed, no matter what the task was. I wanted a job there and made it known through my actions and conversations with my supervisor. At the time, there wasn’t one available, but they kept me on as an intern until they could justify hiring me full time, which they eventually did.
At the end of the day, if you’ve established yourself as an invaluable resource, you never know what your boss or co-workers will do to help you—whether it’s give you a recommendation or help you get hired.