Internships are an exciting, engaging, and structured way to start your career journey while still in school. They introduce you to career options, allow you to find your fit, and build your resume without having to make a full-time commitment at the start. To help you navigate your internship experience we have put together four tips that will help you frame your internship in future conversations and be successful while at your internship, regardless of where you intern.
1. Your internship need not be in your field of study
Whether you are an accounting major wanting to work for a public accounting firm or a finance major dreaming of a future job in investment banking, you probably think you must have an internship doing your job before you get there. That is not necessarily the case. Yes, having an internship in your future field can show your potential employer you have been exposed to their work, but they are going to train you their way, with their tools and techniques, regardless of where you worked prior. Having a non-traditional internship can make you stand out by highlighting experiences your peers may lack. An internship in sales, marketing, or back-office work can give you valuable insights into the work and financial statement line-items your future clients will do. It also allows you to see the books and operations you will be analyzing, auditing, or advising from the other side. Those insights can be valuable to your employer even if they are not the standard path. Don’t downplay your experiences that you think are different – highlight and amplify them.
2. It is OK to not know
When you are an intern your employer knows you are in school. They know you lack practical experience and are still learning. Depending on when you have your internship, they know you might not have even had your tax or audit class yet. Your employer also knows you will see items on the job you aren’t taught in school (e.g., negative cash balances, contingent purchase agreements, etc.). They do not expect you to know everything. However, they do expect you to ask questions when you don’t know, be inquisitive and show a willingness and excitement to learn more and take notes when something new is being explained to you. If you have to ask if you should be taking notes, don’t ask, and just start writing. It shows initiative on your part.
3. Being professional is more than half the battle
Even though your employer will not expect you to know everything, they will expect you to act like a professional every day, whether you are in the office, at the client, or at a social event after work. Remember, you are competing for a job. You are representing your school, your organizations, and your personal brand. The little things matter – show up a few minutes early, ensure that your clothes are not wrinkled or stained, don’t text or scroll social media while in meetings, and ask questions.
Your fellow employees and supervisor will quickly forget if you didn’t know an answer or made a mistake in an Excel formula. They won’t forget if you routinely arrive late, appear unprepared, or act unprofessionally. In fact, those softer metrics will weigh much heavier on the decision to hire you full-time than your technical acumen.
4. Internships are a mutual option – you and your employer are evaluating each other
Lastly, don’t forget that while your employer is deciding whether to extend you a full-time offer, you should also be deciding if this is a place you could see yourself full-time. Assuming you sleep for eight hours nightly and work an eight-hour workday, you will spend 33% of your life and 50% of your waking life at work Monday to Friday. Knowing that, you and your employer should both be asking the same question, is this someone I want to spend half my waking hours with? If you determine the company or firm isn’t the right fit for you professionally, that’s what the process is for. For the professional relationship to work, both you and your employer must agree that you’re the right fit. Both you and your employer have veto power.