Internships can be a great tool to set yourself up for a successful career. They’re a wonderful opportunity to “test drive” a career, gain professional skills, and grow your network.  Here are a few ways to use your time as an intern to your advantage – gleaned from my own numerous internships, as well as my time on the other side of the desk.

My first internship helped me decide on this professional path.

Do real work. Whether you’re interning full-time, or offering an organization 3 hours a week, do real work. While you’re with the organization, devote time to it. Be a professional. Make progress on your project, keep on deadline, and show them what you can do. By the end, you should have completed at least one project, or part of a substantial project, to add to your resume.

Consider this an audition. There may (or may not) be a job available for you at the end of your internship. However, consider this your opportunity to get your foot in the door, not only at this institution, but at others. Good managers talk to other managers about their best interns. They write great recommendation letters for other opportunities or graduate programs. But managers don’t do that for lackluster interns. Give them a positive reason to brag about you at their next networking opportunity.

Reflect on your experience. Use this as a chance to see if this type of organization (or department) is a good fit for you. Don’t like the kind or amount of work your supervisor does? Next time, look at a different sized institution. More interested in another intern’s project than your own? Next time, look for opportunities in that department. Reflect on your experience to narrow down exactly where you see yourself in the future.

You only a few chances to intern during your college career. Embrace them as opportunities to set yourself up for the career you want. Doing real work, and doing it well, will add experience to your resume and allies to your professional network. Consistent reflection on the work environment and your role will help guide you on your path towards a successful and rewarding career.

Looking for an organization where you can make real contributions? Check out our internship opportunities, or contact us for more information.