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Three Ways to Make the Most of Your Internship

by Danielle Hall

Making Waves Foundation » Resources » Three Ways to Make the Most of Your Internship

Getting an internship is hard work. You have secured a role after all the resume edits, interviews, and thank you notes. Congratulations! Now, the hard work continues. You have the chance to showcase your talent and get a better sense of the day-to-day work in your occupation. 

Having the intern title on your resume is one thing, but gaining new skills or seeing if the organization is a good fit is another. You may want to take advantage of all your opportunities to develop and learn as a professional but are unsure where to start.  

With some advice from students and alumni from Making Waves Foundation’s college success program, known as CAP, here are three ways to make the most of your internship experience.

1. Develop your network and learn more about others 

An internship is a perfect environment to develop your network further because you have direct access to other professionals in your field. Whether they are a LinkedIn connection or someone that can vouch for your skills and work ethic, your network can tie you to great people and opportunities. Be willing to share your experiences and ideas (and contact information) because anyone you meet can be a potential resource. 

For example, meeting with “near-peer,” full-time employees at the organization that are presumably a few years older than you, is an excellent way for you to practice talking about yourself and for them to share their career path and knowledge. 

And having a relationship with senior-level staff is great for getting insight into your field. It can be intimidating to connect with those who have been on the job for a while. You may fear making a mistake or knowing the right thing to say. And being intentional about building your network can feel insincere. So, be honest and share your intentions with folk. Let them know when you’re hoping to learn more about their journey, the job, or even how to get discounts on professional association memberships. 

Your network – who you know and who knows you – is meant to benefit you in the short and long term. Therefore, utilizing your access to professionals and their expertise while interning is expected. 

Here is what one of our Wave-Maker alumni, Tamiko Huey, recommends as you build your network. 

“Stay in touch. On the last day of your internship, write them a summary of your time together from beginning to end. ‘When I first came on to this internship, I didn’t know a thing about (insert field name), but after being with you all for (length of internship), I now know (2-3 key takeaways from working together). And I am highly interested in integrating this into my career path. I hope that we can talk again in the future.’ Send holiday greetings; people love that… Keep that connection. Keep that ball rolling. And, of course, send them a LinkedIn invitation. LinkedIn currency is a must these days.” 

Wave-maker Tamiko Huey

2. Think and explore outside of the role description and your comfort zone 

The work assigned to you often depends on the organization’s needs and your perceived capacity. The hope is that those overseeing your experience as an intern have planned and prepared instructive assignments for you and projects within your scope that allow you to gain new strengths. 

Sometimes, your role can feel mundane or like a limit to your interests. And there might be days when you do all that is required of you, with hours left to spare. These are opportunities to ask yourself:

Working outside of routine tasks can help you develop interpersonal and communication skills. It allows you to reflect on your work and gain insight for your future. You can ask questions, learn about other functional areas, and display your knowledge. 

Your internship is a gateway to the organization and your career field. The activities and positions outside of your role description are worth exploring. They can push you outside of your comfort zone and help you get to know yourself as a professional. 

Here is what one of our Wave-Maker students, Moises Limon, recommends as you grow as a professional. 

“As an intern, looking into different industry sectors is worthwhile. It’s good to have an endpoint, a career goal, but how you get there doesn’t matter. It is getting those related sub-skills along the way that will help you build yourself as a professional. For example, I’m a software engineer going into the retail industry because they still need software; retail needs human resources, lawyers, designers, etc. The tech industry has vast facets, but they’re not the only ones who need my skillset. So, take any opportunity to build skills related to your field.” 

Wave-Maker Moises Limon

3. Take time to reflect and prioritize YOU 

Being challenged, expanding your network, and truly impacting your work domain are great goals! Although, these hopes can be taxing. Putting in hours of effort and intentionality is exhausting for anyone with an internship or not.  

So, what will you be doing when you are not on the clock or at a work social? What is a sign you need to take a break? What are the organization’s work-life boundaries, and how do they mirror or differ from yours? How do you define rest?  

These are helpful questions to reflect on because it is essential to take care of yourself as a holistic person, not just as an intern. Whether it’s leaving an event early to make it to a movie with friends or purposely ignoring the email that just came in when you clocked off, a great way to be an effective intern is to maintain ‘you’ as a person.  

It is natural to want to be great and stand out, but it should not be at the expense of your wellbeing. Besides, you’ll need energy and focus to perform well, which often comes from being well nourished and rested. 

Here is what one of our Wave-Maker students, Ashley Canales Orellana, recommends as you prioritize yourself. 

“It’s important to make sure you still have time to take care of yourself, whether through alone time or participation in activities that bring you joy. Neglecting to spend some time away from work may lead to anxiety or burnout, which, in the long run, will prevent you from putting your best effort into all aspects of your life. I make sure to prioritize myself by one, blocking out time in my planner during which I can do things for fun, in addition to time dedicated to academic and professional responsibilities, and two, finding supportive friends to help with accountability, as balancing multiple responsibilities doesn’t have to be done alone.” 

Wave-Maker Ashley CaNales Orellana

Getting an internship and being content with your internship experience are two different things. The hope is that you’ll walk away with a better understanding of yourself and the field.  
 
Have fun learning from other professionals and sharing about yourself. Don’t be afraid to leave your intern station and wander into new areas, literally and figuratively speaking.  
 
Finally, and most importantly, take care of yourself in ways that are best for you; that may not make it to the resume, but it’s worth all the effort.

Danielle Hall

College Coach

More internship resources

Wave-Maker alumni Tamiko Huey shares how internships changed her life and how she recommends you can maximize your internship experience.

Coaches from Making Waves Foundation’s college success program, known as CAP, share tips for making the most of your summer, including options such as summer school, internships, jobs, and more.

Coaches share additional ideas to make the most of learning, growing, and networking opportunities during summer.

ABOUT MAKING WAVES FOUNDATION 

With a unique focus on college attendance and graduation, Making Waves Foundation supports historically underrepresented and underserved students in pursuing their dreams. Making Waves Academy is a public charter school in Richmond, California, educating more than 1,100 students and Making Waves Foundation’s college success program, known as CAP, provides coaching, scholarships, financial literacy, and career support for more than 500 college students as well as a network for more than 500 Wave-Maker alumni.