Everyone wants to get off to a good start at a new job, but interns often spend the first few weeks spinning their wheels rather than contributing. We spoke with leaders at Pandora, Mashable, Warby Parker, and Cushman & Wakefield to find out how interns can prepare for their internships.
1. Know the Basics
Every industry has a set of skills that your employer assumes you will have, so take time before the start of your internship to brush up on these skills.
For example, if you have a journalism internship, you have to know AP style. If you are at a design company, find out what programs they use and try to learn them at a basic level. If you are in business, you have to know Excel.
Mark Lauzon, Senior Director at Cushman & Wakefield says, “Everybody thinks they are proficient in Excel, but they really aren’t. The most important thing is proficiency in Excel and how to make it work. Not just add and multiply, but formatting and labeling as well.”
The better you are able to demonstrate mastery of core skills such as these, the more valuable you make yourself to the company.
2. Know Your Company
Take some time before your first day on the job to research your company. Christina Unward, Prep Manager at Cushman & Wakefield, says that it is important that new interns do research on the company before they arrive and have an idea how the company started and what the company culture is like. Here are a few questions she recommends that incoming interns research:
- What are the biggest challenges and successes the company has had over the past six months?
- What are the primary business lines, products, or services?
- Who are the key people in each area of the company?
- Who are the most important clients?
- What positions are open?
- How is the company structured?
- What licenses will you need?
- What software programs does the company use?
And of course, you should also read through the company’s website and learn how the company is structured. This information could also spare you an awkward gaff.
Gavin Thompson, analyst at Warby Parker, says, “To prepare for success, interns should have fun exploring the company website and recent press before getting started. Diligence goes a long way at Warby Parker, and the more you know on day one, the deeper you can dig once you begin your internship.”
3. Know the Competition
Interns often compete to get a summer spot at a top company and enter the situation feeling triumphant. That kind of attitude can keep interns from recognizing quickly the competition facing the business itself.
Todd Wasserman, former Business Editor at Mashable says, “Interns tend to think that we exist in a bubble, but we don’t. We have competitors who are covering the same stories.”
Even as an intern you are on the company team, and your company has competition in the marketplace. Take time to research the competitors so that you know the players in the industry in which you will be working.
4. Be Prepared To Fail
You are going to fail at some point and the sooner you reconcile yourself to this, the better. Fretting about the possibility of a mistake, or beating yourself up after an error wastes important opportunities to learn and grow.
Miriam Karpilow, Director of University Programs at Pandora says, “Understand that as an intern you are coming in at a lower level. You are there to grow, as well as contribute. Be open to new experiences and trying new things.”
Your response to failure is more important than a perfect performance. When your supervisor offers correction or advice, be humble enough to receive it and make changes. Companies don’t want perfect employees; they want employees who can learn and grow.
5. Know What Questions You Want to Ask
As an intern, no one expects you to know much, but you can get up to speed faster but by asking lots of questions. Journaling the information you gather can help you document your progress during the internship. Determine what you would like to learn and develop a list of questions that you can ask people throughout the summer.
Thompson says, “Come prepared with your curiosity and an arsenal of questions you’d like to ask to various members of the organization. You never know when you’ll share an elevator ride with the person who holds your dream job!” He should know; he started at Warby Parker as an intern.
6. Be Ready To Be You
Success in the workplace, like so many other things in life, depends upon building strong relationships. You can’t build strong relationships with your co-workers if you aren’t yourself.
“If someone can’t show up for work and be their authentic self, they will be miserable and they will make people around them miserable,” says Karpilow.
7. Know What You Want
In the classroom your professor tells you what you have to learn in order to pass the class. In an internship you may have a supervisor telling you what to do, but he won’t know what it is you want to learn. Only you can know that.
This will be helpful in several ways. The company you work for may have several different departments or divisions in which they are placing interns. They will need to know in which one you want to work. If you can articulate what you want to learn, it will underscore that you are a good match for the company.
Unward says, “Knowing that the industry you are applying for is an industry that you want to work in will make it easy to place you somewhere you can grow and benefit.”
Also, during your internship there will be moments when you can ask questions or choose projects to work on. If you are fortunate, you may even have a supervisor who will help you craft experiences to align with what you want to learn. Be ready for the moment when it comes.
8. Put On Your Game Face
While you may be at your company just for a short time, the people around you are there for the long term. They are building careers, growing the company, and growing the business.
“The work interns are doing is a real business contribution, and it is not just summer camp,” says Karpilow.
You can’t afford to act like a tourist at Disneyworld. Put your game face on, support your teammates, and give your all.
9. Commit To Being Positive
Internships, like the rest of life, have their ups and downs. How you respond when things become difficult will speak volumes about your character. For most of us, being positive does not come naturally, so commit to choose an attitude of positivity throughout your internship.
10. See This As A Step
“Try to have a clear picture of what you are capable of doing with the understanding that your first job or your internship is not going to be your entire career,” Karpilow says. “We all have to start somewhere and having options can be paralyzing. It’s about taking that first step and committing to that first step with the understanding that there will be many steps in your professional journey.”
Your internship is just one step in a much longer process of growing your professional career. Work hard and give your best, but see your internship as a part of a bigger process.