Najifa Hossain -- October 17th, 2020
Whether your main goal is to network, get class credit, make money, or add to your resume, there is no doubt that internships provide a valuable way to gain hands-on experience in a professional environment. The perks of interning in the field you want a career in revolve around two main concepts: As an intern, you have direct access to problem-solving tools that are not typically available in a traditional classroom setting, and your position grants you flexibility and time to learn and receive support on projects.
Whether you intern in a corporate office or early-stage startup, there may be more resources available to you than you think. Because any experience is what you make it, having a holistic internship is a decision made by both your employer and you. Finding opportunities, being adaptable and open to learning, and taking initiative may not be included in the job description, but they are important supplementary benefits that can help you make the most of your internship. Here are four of the most effective ways you can grow your skills as an intern and guide your own success:
Workshops are a seamless way to learn the basics of different tools and methods used within departments. Each time you see an opportunity to familiarize yourself with a basic skill, you see a way to add value to your internship experience. If your department offers upskilling workshops for tools or concepts you don’t directly work with, it’s still beneficial to sit in and learn them. The value of an internship experience doesn’t need to be measured by what you learned pertaining to your career choice; it’s better measured by what you learn overall. Relevant or not, if it’s useful and you have something to gain from it, stop by and check it out. Depending on the company size and structure, there may even be opportunities to host your own workshop. At Seedstages, interns have the liberty to plan and present their own workshop within their department for a skill they know well, which are open to all staff.
Regardless of company size or structure, internships always double as mentorship opportunities. Developing strong relationships with your supervisor, team leads, and project managers is a crucial step in building enough trust and acquaintanceship to work one-on-one with them. As your overseers, their role is to guide you, but being proactive with your work and consulting them for advice and feedback will naturally set the pace for a mentor relationship from which you can learn how to do things using their expert opinion and historical insights.
When working with smaller companies in particular, cross-departmental engagement is a valuable and unique opportunity. As a business developer, for example, sitting in on financial and data analytics meetings immediately exposes you to the details of the work that department does in real time. Because you can see problems being solved in action, the first-hand insights you can gain from this type of exposure are great ways to indirectly learn new information and have a well-rounded working knowledge of the industry you work in. This concept is especially beneficial when working with a startup because other team members and departments are more accessible. With time and curiosity, you can develop cross-functional and interdisciplinary skillsets.
Whenever you see a project that piques your interest, it will never hurt you to speak up. There may be some skills you would like to master—not just be familiar with. Reach out to whoever is overseeing or delegating the project and ask if you can be more involved. If these people are too far out of your direct reach, talk to your supervisor. Let them know what you’re interested in—chances are, if you’re already a good worker, they’ll be all the more inclined to help you when they see opportunities for you to take initiative. The stronger of a relationship you build with your work and the people you work with, the more reliable and reputable you will be perceived. The confidence to take charge will come to you naturally, and you’ll feel more prepared when tackling new initiatives. The benefit, however, comes from the intent—you have to go into your role with the desire to be a leader when you can.
As an intern, you’ll likely have a set list of duties and responsibilities given to you on day one. To make the most of your experience, however, it’s important to go above and beyond by building relationships with your coworkers and managers, taking leadership initiatives, and staying curious. Not only will you leave with more knowledge and experience, but you’ll be familiar with skills and concepts that will undoubtedly give you a competitive edge and nurture you into a more resilient and openminded worker as you enter the workforce.