Our tips on being a work experience star will help you make a good impression for all the right reasons.
Once you’ve landed an internship, how do you make the most of it? It’s vital to be professional at all times, but you need to go beyond that. You might think that if you turn up on time and complete all the tasks you’ve been set to a good standard, you’ve done enough to make a success of your internship… but you’d be wrong.
You need to take a more strategic approach. Your goals may change as you learn more about the organisation and the industry, but you still need to take a long-term view.
1. Know your goals
If you’ve set your heart on securing a graduate job offer from your internship employer, make sure you know what the graduate recruitment criteria are and use your placement to fill any gaps in your skills and experience. For example, if you know you need to brush up your public speaking skills, you could volunteer to present the results of a team project. You’ll also need to go all out to impress with your professionalism, hard work and proactive attitude.
2. Watch and learn
You can learn a great deal about the company and the industry from observation and reflection. What can you pick up that people might not tell you directly? This is also a good way to learn about how to behave in the workplace. Which of your colleagues are admired by fellow team members, and why?
You may decide, over the course of your internship, that the employer is not a good match for you. You might come to the same conclusion about the kind of work you are doing or the industry as a whole. Even so, you should still do your best to make a good impression. It’s a small world and the contacts you make and the skills you pick up could be very valuable later on. You should also think about why you’ve decided it isn’t for you, and try to use the experience to pinpoint your new direction.
3. Be proactive
Even at intern level, employers like staff who bring something extra to the business. If you have a new idea or can see a way of improving processes, suggest it. If any interesting challenges come up, be prepared to take them on, even if it means extra work or attempting something that is out of your comfort zone.
All of this will help you get noticed, and will give you the experience you need to work at a higher level. Even if you want to work elsewhere, having examples of when you have been proactive will stand you in good stead and will help you in your applications and interviews.
4. Build your network
It’s tempting to cling to fellow interns or fresh graduates at lunchtimes and social events. Don’t! Try to find opportunities to strike up conversations with more senior colleagues, especially if they are involved in recruitment or could advise you on your career. Take advantage of working alongside people who are doing the job you want to find out about; ask them how they got there and what the work is like.
Unsure how to start a conversation with somebody older and more senior? It’s fine to start with something simple and neutral, such as ‘Did you do anything nice at the weekend?’ If at a social event, you might comment on the venue or the weather. You could also ask how long someone has been at the company and what they did before that. It’ll soon become clear if they have the time and inclination to chat.
However, if you feel this is your one chance to get their advice on your career or ask a burning question, don’t be afraid to introduce yourself, say what you want and establish whether now is a good time, or if it might be possible to talk later.
Chances to have conversations about careers with your colleagues will present themselves naturally during the time you spend in the same building, but you may need to be ready to make the first move. It’s fine to approach a colleague and ask if they have a moment to answer a few questions, but don’t interrupt people if they’re obviously busy. If you open up a discussion about careers with a colleague, make sure you have some good questions in mind.
If you are invited to attend work-related social events, make sure you go along – don’t be an office wallflower. If you get the chance to make contacts in the industry outside your company, so much the better. Your network will be an invaluable source of advice and insight, and may also help you find out about work experience and job opportunities.
5. Get noticed – for the right reasons
Working hard, making a contribution to the team and coming up with new ideas is all very well, but it won’t get you very far if nobody realises you’re doing it. Talk to colleagues about what you’re working on and find out about their projects. Don’t bother with false modesty or self-deprecation; be straightforward about what you’ve achieved and what you hope to do next.
Don’t underestimate the power of your network to talk you up. It can be tricky to draw attention to your own achievements without seeming to brag, but this isn’t a problem if someone else sings your praises for you. If somebody senior in your organisation tells the graduate recruitment team how brilliant you are, chances are they’ll listen.
6. Take notes
Keep track of who you meet and jot down a note of any interaction you had that might be useful to refer back to in future. You should also make a note of any training you take part in, your projects and tasks and your achievements. This will make it much easier for you to take examples from your internship to use in your applications and interviews for graduate jobs.
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