I am a strong believer that every experience is a learning opportunity. Throughout my 2.5 years in college, I have been in multiple internships or research experiences. There are ones that I love, and some I just know that isn’t my thing. Either way, I believe that it is through experimentation can we find what we truly love. Since my first year of university, I had a feeling that law isn’t really my passion for my career. Nonetheless, I still decide to give it a try and applied for internships in different law firms. I ended up having internships in two law firms, and both has confirmed to me that legal practice isn’t necessarily my area of interest. But my point is that experimentation is good. Each experience, even the internships I had in law firms, were definitely not a waste of time. I had indeed learned a lot and acquired some skills through the internships, and most importantly I had a glimpse of the working environment and culture in the field that I would not have otherwise experienced without interning in these companies. Here, I have outlined some things I have learned in my internship experience.
1. Good mentality is important: think about what you can do for the company
Nowadays, a lot of interns carry that attitude of thinking what they can get out of the internship and what they can learn from it when entering the job. I did have this attitude during my first few internships, and it definitely did not go well. Why is that the case? Aren’t interns supposed to learn when working in a company? Yes, you are. You are supposed to be humble and learn from your supervisor. But a passive attitude does not allow you to learn as effectively. It would also result in a lower job satisfaction because you would keep thinking that what you are doing fails to realize your potential, or you can’t seem to get a lot out of your job. Then what attitude should you hold as you intern in a company?
The idea of being self-employed
I am deeply inspired by the podcast Life is A Marathon LIAM 309 – How to Look for Work (and I highly recommend you to listen to his podcast – I have been listening to them every morning!). In this podcast, Bruce has talked about his take on a career and working, and pointed out one very important thing – you should be working for yourself, and everyone is self-employed. I was very confused at first. How come we are all self-employed when we are working for others? How can we be self-employed at all when we are just a small part of the company? Then he answered the question: by being self-employed means that when you are working for the company, you are in fact serving your customer. Your job is to provide your best service such that your customer would have 100% satisfaction. And your customer is your employer and the company you work in. More importantly, you are not paid by your working hours. You are paid because you have contributed to the company, and therefore they pay you back for the service you provide. In other words, you have to provide the service such that you are worthy of being paid. You would want to provide the best service so that your customer would recommend you to the other customers (i.e. employers) because of how well you are able to help them.
How can you have this mindset as an intern?
You should be thinking about how you can contribute to the company and how you can be a good employee in the company – so good that your employer is willing to write a reference for you (and that you are worth the compliment). With this attitude, you would be positive about doing the even most mundane task. You would no longer center the thinking around yourself and how you can get out of the tasks, but how you can do the tasks well enough to contribute to the company and help your employer. The active and positive attitude would not only make you more satisfied with your internship, you will also be more diligent and active. This would allow you to perform better in your internship and hence learn more out of it.
2. It’s okay to ask questions
The fear of reaching out is what stops a lot of students from learning and achieving more in the internship. Often, many interns including me are very worried to show that lack of knowledge when they are assigned a task. I still remember the first time I got a task from my supervisor. I didn’t know exactly what to do, but I was too scared to raise a question. Then, I just nod and accept the task even though I don’t exactly know the instructions, and asked my colleagues later on when I was really stuck and didn’t know how to carry on. The result? I wasted so much time on figuring out everything myself when I could have just asked a question. All of this can easily be solved by seeking advice and asking for help. Of course, there are times that your supervisor would expect you to conduct research on your own and figure out how you can complete the assigned tasks. Therefore, it is also important to ask the right question. My take is that you should do your preparation independently and sufficiently, and if your supervisor is open to answering your questions, make sure you take the opportunity and discuss with your supervisor.
3. Build relationships and learn from your colleagues and supervisors
By reaching out, you can not only get better instructions and help for completing your tasks. Your supervisor is often very capable and intelligent. Many are actually very willing to offer some insightful ideas and advice or even knowledge in their field of work. This allows you to gain a deeper understanding of their work or just the industry in general. I am now interning at a non-governmental organization that promotes child rights and child protection. It is definitely my area of interests and I always have a lot of questions regarding it. Luckily, my supervisor is very open to questions and is always happy to tell me more about her work. The discussion allows me to learn so much more about child right and the legal framework of child protection, and I always take notes after discussing with her. The conversations were indeed very inspiring and useful for me as an intern, and I realized that I have learned so much more compared to my previous internships. By asking questions and talking to your other colleagues and your supervisors, you are also building relationships and networking with them. These relationships would be incredibly helpful for you in the future. It allows you to better learn from them, and their expertise may also give you valuable help and insights.
4. Make sure you know the instructions and details of your tasks
One thing I have learned to do is to restate the tasks assigned to me to my supervisor. This can help me see if our perspectives and vision of the task aligns. Sometimes, what you comprehend and what the supervisor really meant for you to do may be different. Or, sometimes the supervisor may not be exactly sure what he/she would like you to do. To avoid misunderstanding and to make sure that you two are on the same page, the best is to re-articulate and express the instructions and your task in your own words. Let your instructor knows what you are going to do and how you are going to approach your tasks, and see if your instructor agrees with your direction. If you just nod and go back to your desk with your task, your instructor is likely to expect you know what you are doing and expect to you present to him the work that meets all his expectations and standards. It wouldn’t be nice if you didn’t ask any questions, didn’t request any clarification and then end up with a work that is totally different from what he expects from you. Therefore, pay attention to details and make sure to clarify the task with your supervisors. Sometimes, your supervisor may even miss out one point or two and forget to remind you of them. You should then take the initiative role and ask about these details, and tell to him your own thoughts and see if he agrees with you.
5. Complete your task with excellence
Besides, you should also make sure that you complete each task with excellence. This wouldn’t be difficult if you hold the mentality that I mentioned in the first point. You shouldn’t just finish the task according to the instructions given, but you should think about how you can do more and produce the best outcome. You can, for example:
- Do further research and add in information that is relevant and helpful
- Conduct careful check and proofread to make sure that all the work is error-poof (even if the part is not written by you!)
- Summarize all the key points you have talked about during discussions so that your supervisor can easily refer to them
By completing your work with enthusiasm, passion, and excellence, people around you can notice your good work ethic. Instead of being a burden and someone to take care of in the company, be a helpful addition and an intern that people appreciate!
6. Don’t be afraid to give your opinion
Being an intern doesn’t mean you are inferior and shouldn’t voice your opinion. At my first few internships, I thought that the supervisor would expect me to just “shut up and work on my tasks”. I thought that I was being a good intern by just following exactly what I am required to do, and nothing more. But sometimes, the company hires intern not because they would like to open a platform for you to learn and experience work culture in their office. They are probably looking for input and insightful ideas from teenagers and college students, which they currently lack. One of my employer in the past, for example, told me that he really welcomed interns’ input because he is also learning from us and learning the current trend through us. He would love to know more about our thoughts about the service the company is offering. Therefore, if you have an opinion, don’t be afraid to voice them out (politely). You can kindly point out some areas for improvements about what the company is offering, or you can provide them with your perspective as a suggestion. By giving your own input, not only are you being creative, you are likely to learn a lot from the feedback that your instructor gives you. They may point out some flaws in your opinions, or some difficult when implementing it, or you may impress them profoundly. Either way, you are still learning something and getting some good feedback. This is a great way to improve yourself.
7. Be open and take up challenging tasks
I am an introvert, and I tend to get very nervous when I have to speak. Therefore, when my employer asked me if I wanted to try cold calling another company to introduce our service, I kindly turned him down. And I really regret it now. Although it doesn’t do any harm (and my supervisor didn’t really mind that either knowing that I am still new and am not exactly familiar with the service), I really regret not taking this opportunity. There weren’t really a lot of cold calling or networking experience for college students before we graduate. Being an introvert, practices are exactly what I need. Yet I threw away the opportunity when it is in my hands. Then I learned this. If you want to make your internship fruitful, unforgettable, and rewarding, you will have to be active and open to challenges. You will have to step out of your comfort zones and do something that you are afraid of doing before.
8. Take notes of things you have done and learned
Finally, I learned that internship is a great learning opportunity. I get so much out of it and I don’t want to lose anything that I have learned. As I go into my current internship, I decide to dedicate a section in my journal to this internship to record:
- A list of tasks that I have to work on / worked on
- Feedback from my supervisor
- Things I have learned through observations, discussions and more.
- Things I think I can improve and work on
This journal has helped me to understand better my tasks, my ability, and my work ethic. It also allows me to reflect on my work and think about how I can do better in the future. Because of this journal, I can better monitor my work and see my progress. It always surprises me how much I have done and how much I have learned during the internship! I know it’s difficult to keep a journal, so I’ve got you a journal printable that’s going to help you take notes of what you have done and learned in your internship! You can download it at the ST Resource Library!
To sum everything up…
- Take an active role in your internship! Think about what you can do for your company, and how you can utilize your skills and produce valuable output!
- It’s totally okay to ask questions. Seeking advice and help is always a great way to communicate with your supervisor, and you can also learn a lot through the discussions!
- It’s always great to build relationships and networking with your colleagues. They may offer you insightful ideas and knowledge, and they may also provide you with valuable help.
- Make sure you know the instructions and details of your tasks. It’s always better to double-check. Try to reiterate the instructions in your own words. This can help make sure that you and your employer is on the same page.
- Complete your tasks with excellence. Don’t just finish it. Complete it by doing more than what you need to.
- Don’t be afraid to give your own opinion. Sometimes that’s exactly what you employer is looking for!
- Keep an open mind and take up challenging tasks even if that means stepping out of your comfort zone.
- Take notes of things you have learned during the internship! You can do that by writing them on the printable I’ve prepared for you!