Are internships worth it? Yes, here’s how to maximize your experience
by Tamiko Huey
The value of internships and how they changed my life
As college students, most of us are preparing to enter the workforce once we graduate. We know how crucial it is to attain firsthand professional experience during our undergraduate years… Or do we?
My name is Tamiko Huey. I’m a senior management analyst for the city of Berkeley. I have a MPH degree from San Francisco State University and graduated from the University of California, Santa Cruz, in 2020 with a bachelor of science degree in human biology.
I am a proud recipient of a Making Waves Education Foundation scholarship. The Making Waves college and career success program provides scholarship and financial planning support and one-on-one college and career mentorship.
During my time in college, I learned about institutional change, health equity, and public health, but what truly shaped my career today is my internship experience.
I completed more than five internships when I was an undergraduate student. Because of my internship experiences, I was able to secure a job early on after graduation and received offers even before graduating.
I’m here to share the value of internships, along with specific ways you can maximize your internship experience in pursuit of a full-time offer.
What is an internship?
An internship is a safe place that allows you to apply what you learned in the classroom to the real world. When I say a safe space, I mean that the employers who hire you for your internship do not expect you to perform at the same level and capacity as their full-time employees. Instead, they want to use this opportunity for you to grow and learn the skills you need.
Internships are an investment
Internships are essential for your development, not just as a student but as a young working professional. They are pivotal and set you apart. Internships are an investment and arguably one of the best investments you can make for your career.
Internships help you explore your career
An internship allows you to explore potential career roles and discover what you may like or dislike. It gives you the chance to have informal interviews and conversations with people in positions you’re interested in. It’s an opportunity to informally learn about the requirements or desired skill sets for those positions and ask questions about potential career paths.
My internship roadmap
My first internship was in 2016 when I had just graduated high school. I interned with the East Bay Municipal Utility District in the Crisis Dispatch Center. There, I learned graphic design skills and gained valuable customer service experience. I also learned a lot about data entry and management. This internship provided me with the necessary experience to apply for subsequent internships, including positions at the Sutter Health Department, UC Davis Medical Center, Children First Medical Group, and the Marin County Department of Public Health. This internship changed my life and set the course for my career in public health.
Through these experiences, I had the opportunity to meet passionate individuals in the field and witness the application of public health in the clinical world, which solidified my dedication to this field.
Thanks to my internship experience, I was offered a very competitive salary despite not having any full-time work experience. I leveraged my internships to secure this offer.
7 ways to maximize your internship experience
- Talk to anyone and everyone
You may have heard the mantra, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” Many times, developing relationships and networking during your internships can open doors that your resume can’t.
Show a real interest in your new colleagues and get to know them on a deeper level by asking genuine questions that encourage further conversation. Actively listen to their answers, acknowledge their expertise, and ask them lots of questions. Good interpersonal skills involve being supportive, kind, empathetic, and respectful.
- Gain sought after career skills
In my current role, I have to balance over multiple projects at a time. Therefore, I learned how to manage my time effectively through my internship experiences. Figuring out when you are most productive and understanding yourself is crucial to bring your best self to work every day. I also learned to communicate with people from different generations, genders, and races through my internships. Additionally, I acquired skills in Excel and Microsoft applications, as well as basic computer skills like using Word and putting together documents.
- Arrive on time and present your best self
Never be late! Arrive on time and ready to work. Being punctual shows that you take your internship seriously, respect everyone’s time, demonstrate dependability, and are motivated to make the most of your time in your role. Present yourself in a way that reflects how you want to be perceived. This includes wearing attire that’s best for your field and carrying yourself with confidence.
- Keep a journal and document your accomplishments
This is important both for yourself and your professional career. It allows you to reflect and determine if this is the right path for you. It also provides a reference for future opportunities within the company. No matter how long your internship is, you won’t remember every little task you completed. Recording your experiences helps you keep track of all the work you did.
- Ask questions
Take advantage of your student status. People will not be offended by your questions, especially since you’re an intern. Remember, there is no such thing as a dumb question.
- Stay connected!
After your internship is over, don’t forget about the organization and the people you interned with. Keep in contact with them over the years. On the last day of your internship, write them a personalized thank you note.
When I first started this internship, I didn’t know anything about marketing. However, after working closely with you for 10 weeks, I now know XYZ, and I’m excited to integrate this knowledge into my career path. I hope we can stay in touch in the future. Thank you for all your help.
- Ask about full-time offers
Maintain the connection after your internship and let them know you’re looking for a full-time opportunity. I am a strong advocate of making the implicit explicit. If you don’t tell them that you want to be a part of the company, they won’t know. So, be clear about your intentions. For example, I recommend asking your supervisor about suitable entry-level positions within the company for new graduates.
Final words of advice
Being a college student is a unique position where you absorb knowledge and seek outlets to apply it. People are generally willing to help students. When you inform others that you’re a student, they are more open and willing to assist you. Specifically for Wave-Makers, please stay in touch with your Making Waves college coach. They are your friends and valuable assets, who can help you overcome any barriers in your academic or professional life.
Tamiko Huey is a Wave-Maker alumni who received a Making Waves Education Foundation scholarship in 2016. She graduated from UC Santa Cruz in 2020 with a BS in human biology and a MPH degree in 2022 from San Francisco State University. As a Senior Local Government Authority Analyst for the city of Berkeley, Tamiko enjoys sharing the knowledge she has gained, whether it’s college advice, the benefits of internships, or professional experience. In July 2023, she hosted and emceed Making Waves Education Foundation’s College Grad Celebration to honor recent college grads.
ABOUT MAKING WAVES Education FOUNDATION
At Making Waves, we are committed to educational equity. Making Waves Education Foundation is a Bay Area nonprofit that supports Making Waves Academy – a public charter school with more than 1,100 5th through 12th grade students – and leads college and career programming with more than 500 college students.
Knowing the opportunities that come with a college degree, we partner with historically underrepresented and underserved students to help make college affordable and graduation attainable. Centering the journeys of our students, our personalized approach includes college and career coaching, scholarships, and financial planning.
Our alumni network includes more than 600 college graduates, who earn their degrees and land jobs at more than twice the rate of their first-generation, low-income peers, with 85% graduating debt-free.