Where you decide to intern matters – a lot. It was my most important decision in high school because it led me to an experience that has shaped how I look at engineering, industry, the world of work and my place in it.
Of course there are a ton of reasons to intern – gain experience, build confidence, make professional connections. But what happens once you start at a company? How do you make sure you get what you need and impress your team (and maybe your future employer)?
8 Must-Dos For A Great Internship
1. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. My colleagues were great. I started my internship in high school, so I was the youngest and least experienced person in the room every single day. Everyone knew more than I did, and they were eager to help me. Once I got into the learning groove, I was much more comfortable admitting what I didn’t know. That’s why I was there; to learn and eventually to contribute.
2. Be ready to contribute from day one. In your interview if they can’t layout your job and give you details on role and team expectations, be wary. For the internship to benefit you (and the company) there has to be some definition around what you’re expected to do or you’ll end up doing useless stuff. I was programming drives on my first day. (And yes, I was nervous).
3. Say yes. Never turn down an opportunity. You might feel scared and worried that you’ll mess up. That’s okay. But you have to try. Think about your hardest class and how you got through it. If you didn’t know something, you read more about it, asked teachers for help and handled the challenge.
4. Do your best – then do more. Don’t just get to the meeting on time – be early. If you’re asked to finish a task, find out what’s next and offer to tackle that. Finish before the deadline. Go deeper into the concept or the task so when you’re talking to your team you can have an educated discussion.
5. It’s okay to fail as long as you learn. I never took physics in high school so in college that class was so overwhelming, I failed. The next time around I altered my approach. I studied more. I asked questions. I didn’t repeat the same mistakes. It’s the same concept with your internship. Pick a company that values risk-taking and failure.
6. Let motivation be your goal. Whatever you are motivated towards, let that guide you. If you’re interested in industrialization, then your goal is to do anything and everything that makes you smarter and more capable around this work. Because I was so young, I felt I had a lot to prove to myself and to the people around me. I was motivated to go above and beyond in my work – that was my goal. And because I showed I could do more, I was asked to do more.
7. Open you mind (and don’t assume anything). This sounds easier than it is. As you consider internships, don’t assume that because a company is new it’s innovative; or because it’s old it’s boring. I did my research and knew that Rockwell was an industry leader but it wasn’t until I got inside that I really understood how innovative the company is – or the real-world applications I would work on.
8. It’s up to you. I was sitting in meetings with professionals who had decades more experience than I had. I could have been intimidated and quiet. Instead I chose to talk to people, to welcome coaching, and to offer ideas. Remember, people want to help you. Let them.
An internship is an opportunity to decide if what the career is offering is what you want for your life. When I was on the FIRST® robotics team in high school I was doing programming.
I like programming, but I realized it’s not something I want to do every day. Without that experience I might have spent a lot of time in college working toward something that I didn’t want to do for a living.
This is your time. Use it wisely.