Congrats, you got the summer internship! After months of test, interviews and maybe even an assessment centre, you’re finally ready to get settled into working life. But what happens now? Long gone are the days of interns being sent on endless coffee runs and photocopying missions – companies are now really starting to see the value of bringing in students with new ideas that can contribute to the company. It’s key to make a good impression, as the company you’re working for could offer you a further placement, a fast-track through their grad scheme, or even a job at the end of it. So, how do you cope with an internship? I’ve been fortunate enough to get two, and here are the top five things I’ve learnt:
- Do your research
If you’re going to be in a new city, make sure you sort out all the basics before you arrive. For accommodation, staying with family and friends will likely be your cheapest option; if you have other friends working in similar areas of a city, a flat share could be the best route to take. You can also try renting a single room or perhaps look into university halls, as these are often left unoccupied over summer. Whatever you decide, make sure you sort this out well in advance, as you don’t want to have the stress of finding a house within budget (especially in an expensive city like London!). Make sure you know if and when you’re getting paid, and budget for food, travel, rent and bills accordingly.
You should also research your company well, and get a good general idea of what they do generally, and in your specific department. If you have the name of your manager, add them on LinkedIn – I arranged lunch with mine before my internship started so I could get more of an idea of what she did in the company. Not only was this helpful for me, she was also impressed with the keenness I’d shown. Another good tip is to keep up to date with relevant news. For example, if you’re working in a bank this summer, keep on top of financial services news. This can help you to contribute to debates and meetings in your office.
- First impressions
I cannot stress enough how much first impressions count during internships; as you’re only around for a short period of time, once people have an opinion on you there is only limited time to change it. Make sure you dress appropriately on your first day – if you aren’t sure, it’s better to be too smart than too casually dressed – and be prompt with your communication before the internship starts, so your manager knows you’ll be on it when you start. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. I often worried that I was asking too many, but people were always happy to help out; they also didn’t know things when they started, and they understand it takes time to get used to everything (particularly if it’s your first time in an office environment).
For the first few days, companies won’t usually expect too much of you. You’ll likely have IT training, inductions, and so many introductory meetings you’ll lose count, so just take it as it comes (and try your best to remember everyone’s names). In my first week this Summer, all I was doing was background reading and induction training, before I got thrown into a project at the start of week two. This is quite common during internships, especially in the bigger firms, so be prepared for lots of new knowledge very quickly.
- Network, network, network!
Internships are likely to be your best opportunity to make contacts to take with you into post-university life. I mentioned LinkedIn before, and if you take one thing from this article, make it this: set it up and make it up-to-date before you start. I’ve been fortunate enough to get two internships, and LinkedIn has meant I’ve stayed in contact with the people I met on both. In fact, a colleague from my first internship shared the link to the application form for my second, and I would never have found out about the opportunity without him. LinkedIn is a valuable tool for interns – make sure you use it!
While on the job, make use of after-work socials to meet people in a casual setting, and be proactive during working hours: introduce yourself to people, ask people what they do, and don’t be afraid to ask them if you can sit in on their meetings if you think their work is interesting – most of them will be more than happy to let you tag along! Ask your manager if there are any other students or interns working in the office; in both of my jobs there have been placement students, interns and recent graduates that I have been able to meet and socialise with who are also going through some of the same struggles as me. Also see if there’s any networks or mailing groups you can join – I joined the LGBT+ group at my work, and have met some of my closest work colleagues through it.
- Get stuck in
You only have a limited amount of time to work, so get involved straight away! Again, be proactive: ask to sit in on meetings, if something interests you, ask more about it, and don’t wait for work to come to you – most managers will expect you to ask them if you feel like you don’t have enough to do. However, sometimes the opposite is true and you feel like you have too much to do – if that’s the case, don’t be afraid to talk to your manager and get things sorted out. They can’t help you if they don’t know you’re struggling, and they’ll most likely be highly sympathetic and understanding.
Another great thing to do is to get involved in organising things yourself. I’ve helped to organise a company quiz night, presented at department-wide meetings, and even held a fundraiser during my internships, and they’ve all been incredible opportunities. Not only does it show enthusiasm, but it’s also a great way to form stronger relationships with colleagues.
- Enjoy it!
Interns nowadays have the chance to work on genuinely exciting projects, and really improve their employability through improved technical ability, better soft skills, and recommendations from professionals. This is your chance to not only boost your CV, but to make a real difference to a company, even if only for the summer. And remember, if you ever feel in over your head and like everyone else knows more than you: you got hired because they believe in you, so you’re definitely doing something right.