Monday, June 24, 2013

How to Make the Most of Your Internship

'Tis the season for summer internships! Whether you are in high school or university, being thrown into a company for a three month work marathon can be a daunting task. I've had a lot of internships, and made my fair share of mistakes along the way. Now I have a lot of interns working for me, so I've had time to compile a list of 10 tips for making the best of your internship while my interns do my busy work (just kidding... Sort of).

1) Internships are three month long interviews. It's easy to forget this once you get comfortable in your position, but keep in mind your performance will decide if you are offered a future position.

2) You will need somebody to give you a recommendation. Talk with your boss and at least one other full time person at the company regularly enough so that they can give you personal recommendations for your next internship or job. Even if you absolutely hate the internship, you may need these contacts for up to seven years after you finish your  internship.

3) You don't need a degree to be a great engineer. Just because you haven't finished your degree program doesn't mean you can't make some major contributions to a company. Don't be afraid to take ownership of your tasks, and express your ideas.

4) Internships are not summer camps. While it is a great opportunity to meet some awesome new people and go to company organized fun, your internship is still a job not a vacation.

5) Use your internship as an opportunity to network. Most engineering students I know end up interning at more than one company. Use your summer as an opportunity to network not just with full time employees, but other interns. You never know where people will end up, the engineering community is actually a pretty small world.

6) Don't over-commit yourself. One of the biggest mistakes I made was taking difficult college courses while working full time at an internship. If you end up with a big deadline for work and a midterm- something has to give. Not only was I not able to give either my internship or my classes the level of attention I would have liked, but I started the school year completely burned out. If possible, take the summer as an opportunity to focus on one thing so you can go back to your school refreshed and ready for another year.

7) Don't be afraid to ask questions. Asking questions is not a bad thing. As an intern it is expected that you will have a steep learning curve at the beginning of your work (unless you are put in the unfortunate position of coffee runner and photocopier). Just make sure to listen carefully to the answer- because asking the same question multiple times can make it seem like you are incompetent or don't care.

Picture thanks to Ruby Stubson
8) Be wary of the line between work and personal life. This line can be very blurry in internships, especially those where housing is provided and shared with other interns. But nothing in company housing stays secret for long.

9) You are competing with other interns for a job offer. People have a tendency to compare interns to one another.  So while being a team player is important, you should also make a special effort to not fall behind the curve.

10) Use your internship as an opportunity to learn about what you want in an employer. Compile a mental or physical list at the end of each summer about what is important for you to have in a workplace. This will come in handy when you are coming up with questions for future interviews, and making the decision between multiple offers.

Good luck. Go own that internship.



P. S. Do YOU have any tips for engineering and science interns?  Leave them in the comments below!


  1. My advice, since you asked, is this: Don't bee too formal or stiff. Companies won't hire you if you don't fit into their culture, so if you're always worried about being professional such that you never connect with someone on a personal level, they'll just remember you for being a robot and think that you're not going to be enjoyable to work with, and will therefore offer the job to someone who "is a better fit."

  2. Now at the tail end of my first lab internship, I feel as though there were a few things that really helped me the most:
    1. Do not be afraid to admit that you do not understand something. Believe it or not they are not expecting you to know everything. That is why you are an intern.
    2. Open up and be friendly, you will make lifelong friends. [:)]

    I hope this is proves helpful!

    1. Congratulations on finishing your first internship! I agree with both of your points. It's always better to admit you don't know something than to do it wrong. And, years later, I'm still good friends with people from my internships (one of the just visited me this week!). Good luck with the school year!


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