It’s spring, the season of midterms and spring break and gazing at summer through binoculars because it’s still so far away.
At least, it seems far away. Believe me, it’s not. Summer will be here before you know it, along with that summer internship you landed in December and haven’t thought much about since.
You can choose to walk into your first day of your internship cold. It’s been done. Not well, but it’s been done. Or you can decide you’re going to put in a little time to prepare for your internship now, and knock your company’s (proverbial) socks off.
If that sounds like a better plan, read on. After these tips, you’ll be exceptionally well-prepared for your internship.
Read the company’s website
We’ll start with the most fundamental to-do: Read the website of the company you’ll be interning for. By the time you’re done you should be able to answer a few questions about the company: What do they do? What is their mission or what are their core values? Why does their business exist? Who are the key members of the company?
Most businesses these days have a blog—don’t ignore it. They have it so they can share information about themselves with everyone on the other side of the screen. Use it to make yourself an informed employee. They’ll appreciate it, and you’ll benefit from their appreciation and from your new knowledge.
It might even keep you from making some rookie mistakes on the job.
Be informed about your field
This is important on a basic level whether you have an internship or not. Hopefully you’re already informed and that’s how you landed the job. Don’t stop. The more informed you are and the more you understand about the current events in your field, the more you can glean from your internship experience.
It will help you network—you’ll appear informed (because you will be), you’ll be able to converse intelligently with other people in your company and outside of it. And it will help you do your job better. You’ll be aware of the wider world in your field and how other people are solving problems and approaching challenges. Plus, we all know college classes, while they teach you a lot, don’t teach you everything you need for the real world. Prepare yourself. You won’t regret it.
Make a list of questions you want answered while you’re at your internship
Based on your research of both the company website and your field as a whole, make a list of questions. I’m not talking about “where’s the coffee maker.” I mean big questions. What do you want to know about this field you’ve decided to work in? You have an entire company of experienced people at your disposal. Don’t waste that.
Use your new knowledge to inform your questions. How are current industry trends affecting business practices? Where are the best places to get information about your field? Where do your coworkers see the future of your field trending? What is the most fulfilling part of working in that field? Why does your business approach the industry in their specific way? What new technologies should you be pursuing to keep yourself relevant?
The list could go on forever. But take it from someone who’s been there—once you walk in the company’s door you’ll be too flustered and then too busy to ask or even come up with those questions. If you have at least a few ready in advance, you’ll be sure to gain way more from your internship experience.
Identify someone you want to learn from within the company & ask them to lunch
Some companies will have a mentorship program in place for their interns and you won’t have to work at this. But many companies do not. Regardless, it really is up to you to make the most of your experience.
During your internship you will be surrounded by people who are experts in your field with a ton of experience. Use your time researching the website to also identify someone (or multiple people!) that you want to meet and learn from.
It can seem intimidating, but I’ll let you in on a secret. People are flattered to be asked for advice. Once you get to the company and you’ve learned where everything is, shoot off a quick email. Say something like, “I noticed from looking at the website that you work in X area. I’m really interested in learning more about that during my internship. Would you be willing to let me buy you coffee/meet me for lunch and tell me about your experience?” Check out this list of questions if you need some conversation starters.
If your intern director hasn’t given you any work to do in preparation for your internship, ask! Most fields (and companies) do have specialized processes and software they use to accomplish work. Chances are you’ll be required to use at least some of those processes during your internship. Why not get a leg up?
Ask your intern coordinator (probably the person who hired you, if you’re unsure) what (if any) those processes or software applications are and whether they recommend any tutorials or articles you should read before coming.
If nothing else, it shows initiative when you ask, but often it will also make you the most prepared intern in the company (and that’s always a good thing!).
Learn the dress code
This is another question for your intern coordinator. Make sure you’re aware of the dress code for your company. You don’t want to show up in jeans if they’re all wearing suits. But then again, you really don’t want to wear heels all day if the dress code is shorts and flip flops.
It’s a standard question, and you should get a standard answer. If you get an answer like “business casual” or “business/informal,” here’s a guide to help you determine what you should wear for your first day.
Set some goals you want to accomplish during the summer
Your goal as an intern should be to learn as much as you possibly can. That won’t happen by accident, just like getting in shape doesn’t happen by accident. Sit down now and start thinking about what you want to learn this summer.
Do you want to make contacts who can write you letters of recommendation? Do you want to determine whether this is actually a field you want to pursue further? Do you want to learn a new technology or become familiar with a specific business method? Whatever you want to do, set your goal now. You can always tweak it later, but having it in mind when you step into the building makes you much more likely to achieve it during your internship.
Get there early (make sure you know how long your commute will take)
It should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway. Don’t be late! Make sure you know BEFORE the morning of your first day exactly where your building is, where you should park, how far you have to walk, etc. And remember, “five minutes early is on time. On time is late.”
Phones are great, and they can give you estimated travel time from one location to another, but there’s no substitute for actually trying the commute before the actual day. Start at the place you’ll be living, drive over to the office, and just make sure you know how to get there and no roads are unexpectedly closed.
This is a case of better safe than sorry. You’ll feel much calmer on your first day, and much more likely to be on time!
Don’t be afraid to ask a lot of questions
Wait, isn’t this something you should be doing during your internship? Yes. Why do I mention it now? Because you need to psych yourself up now.
It takes guts to admit you don’t know how to do things when you’re in a new place. And when you’re the intern, it can feel like you’re being a nuisance. Here are two pieces of advice:
First, don’t be embarrassed to admit you don’t know something. You’re an intern—you’re not expected to know everything. At EduSource, we have a 30-minute rule. If you’ve spent that long trying to figure out how to do something, you should ask someone.
Second, google first. Did you get that? Google first. Sometimes questions are easily answered with a quick internet search. If you can’t find it easily, or you’re not confident about the answer, feel free to ask, but using this rule of thumb will help you make sure you’re asking the right questions.