Studies show there are few tools more powerful than college internships to help students secure quality employment in their field after graduation. Internships are also valuable ways to explore potential career paths and organizations without making a long-term commitment.
“Having that internship experience allows students to test-drive companies,” says Stephanie Gandy, internship program manager for the LSU Office of Business Student Success. “A lot of times I see students who are dead-set on working for ‘this company’ or, more often, living in ‘this city.’ An internship is an opportunity for them to test-drive that idea of what their future will look like. If you do like it, great, then you already know. If you don’t, you haven’t signed on for a full-time job. It’s much easier to leave an internship than it is to leave a full-time job.”
As an intern, however, stepping into a new business as the least-experienced employee can be a daunting experience on the first day. Asking these questions will help ease the transition and set your internship up for success.
Gandy says she encourages students to try to understand the environment and culture of the company as quickly as possible when starting a new internship. Decoding how successful employees at the company contribute and work with others on a daily basis is valuable information that can help an intern thrive.
“They can ask them ‘is this a collaborative environment or am I working by myself?’ ” she says. “Asking those important questions about the culture is a good way to get your footing on that first day.”
Gandy recommends posing the question to other interns, preferably those who have been around a little longer. If there are none who fit the bill, she suggests turning to the person you’ll be working most closely with, such as a cubicle-mate or direct supervisor.
All new interns should have a job description or at least a basic explanation of what’s important to the employer heading into their first day in the office. If for some reason that isn’t provided, Gandy suggests asking for clarification. But even if a new intern has a basic job description in hand, it’s worth drilling down on what it actually means for the day-to-day experience.
“You can sit down with your supervisor and establish priorities of that job description,” she says. “Ask them to help you understand what, to the company, is the most important thing that you should start doing immediately.”
Many organizations have mentors who are assigned to guide and coach interns while they’re on the job, often assigning them tasks to handle. But if a mentor isn’t available, it’s usually appropriate for an intern to seek out another employee to ask if there’s an area where they can help. A little initiative can go a long way in making your mark during the internship.
Most companies will take care in explaining office basics, such as where to park or when to take lunch. However, in the case of an employer that hasn’t had an intern in a while, it may be necessary for a new intern to request a tour of the office to understand the layout and facilities. “That’s really helpful so interns can get their bearings,” Gandy says.
A quality intern experience doesn’t have to be limited to the basic day-to-day office duties assigned by supervisors. “A lot of students miss the opportunity to really ask for guidance and mentorship beyond just their given internship role,” Gandy says.
Professional development opportunities could include shadowing other employees in the office, lunch outings with co-workers or even educational classes or conferences. You’ll never know what opportunities are available if you don’t speak up and ask the question, Gandy says.
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