How To Make The Most Of Your Summer Internship Or Co-op

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Do know which career path you’re on? Where do you see yourself in five, 10 or 20 years? What job or organization will help you get there?

If you answered “I don’t know” to any of those questions, you should consider doing an internship!

I see internships as short-term positions that allow you to have an insider’s look at various industries, companies, jobs and career paths without committing.

Don’t rush to start your first job and find out you don’t like it! With internships that range from three months to a year, you’ll discover if that is the career path you’d like to commit your life to.

Remember, you’ll be working for about 40 more years. Make sure it’s something you enjoy!

Internships vs. entry level jobs

With internships, managers and supervisors are more than your mentors. They will teach you your job. You’re free to try a lot of interesting things, and you may even get your hands on projects unrelated to you job. Often your projects are small and short so you’ll see results (and get feedback) before your internship ends.

If you realize that your true calling is in a different field, you can ask your managers to do different jobs in the company or wait until the internship ends.

In an official, real job, you are hired to do fulfill a role. Not all managers and supervisors will teach you how to do your job. You won’t get your hands on many unrelated projects because you weren’t hired for those. If you really want to get your hands on something interesting and unrelated to your work, some companies will allow it, but you still need to focus on your main job.

If you realize that you absolutely despise your work, you may need to quit! Also, some employers will not hire job-hopping people.

How to make the most of your internship

Your reasons for doing an internship should be to understand yourself, the industry, the company and whether you’d like to spend your life doing this type of work.

To learn the most in those few weeks or months, be open to learning!

  1. Try new things. Experience as many projects as you can during your internship, however unrelated to your work. Who knows? You might enjoy it.
  2. Ask for feedback. It’s easy to forget this when you’re already learning so much. But remember to ask for feedback before, during and after your project or task. Keep on learning!
  3. Take initiative! If you find an interesting project you’d like to do, go for it! In some cases, other employees have already started that awesome project. Here’s what you can do: Listen during team meetings, understand the current problems, research and surprise them with a proposal!
  4. Use your time wisely. Sometimes you’ll get slow, unproductive days when managers are too busy for you (it happens!). Take this time to learn something on your own, like reading industry news, learning a new skill online, writing in a different language, etc.
  5. Other employees are your mentors too. Your co-workers – the guy from the development team, the sales girl and everyone else – are happy to share their experiences after graduation. How did they end up where they are, and are they happy with their jobs? You will get personal advice on your career, life decisions and learn how to take more risks.

One last tip I’d like to share is: If you still haven’t figured out what you want to do after an internship (or even two), at least you’ll know what you don’t like!

Photo credit: Coffee is for prodigies by everdred on Flickr
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About the author

Kathy Ho started writing for TalentEgg in October 2011. She graduated with a BBA degree at the University of Toronto in the Strategic Management program. Before committing to a career in consulting, she wishes to try different areas in business. Oh, and although she's nervous about it, she loves public speaking. Despite her background in business, she also has a passion for all things creative. She hopes to work in the art industry and maybe pursue her hobby as a painter. She is fluent in Cantonese, speaks broken French and is learning Italian.