Depending on your work experience, applying to and finding the right internship can be tricky. There are lots of different kinds of internships, including unpaid, for-credit, and paid internships. Figuring out your priorities before finally settling on the kind of work experience you'd like is vital. Don't be desperate to invest your time in any internship just because it will "look good on your resume"—even if it seems like your only option. If you finally find a good fit for your first internship, here are some tips to help you succeed!
Ask Questions, but Don't Be Needy
You are at the bottom of the food chain. While it's good to ask for help when needed, sometimes you just need to figure things out for yourself and take initiative. And if you end up making a mistake, that's OK. If you own up to them and make sure to clarify what went wrong, your supervisor will respect your integrity and willingness to learn.
Learn When to Shut Up and Listen
You're used to a school environment where you receive credit and feedback for everything you do, and it's important to recognize that an internship is not designed the same way. It can be difficult to keep some thoughts to yourself or recognize that your position is more about observing and contributing behind the scenes than it is about speaking up. If you're in a meeting, it's okay to contribute a suggestion every now and then, but you're there to gain experience, not lead the conversation.
You Don't Need to Fix What's Broken
When you first start working somewhere, you may notice some of the cracks in the system almost immediately. As much as you'd like to pioneer change in the workplace, it's better to wait and figure out the organization's priorities and why they operate the way they do. Finding a niche in the organization that is unique to you and your strengths can be better than trying to rework the entire system just because you can. Find your lane and try to stay in it.
Keep an Open Mind
Whatever your expectations are of your new job, it's important to put those to the side. Your expectations can get in the way of what you can positively contribute and learn from the opportunity. Whether you're working at a big fancy company or a small start-up, it's better to go in with a clean slate. No excuses. Remember, you're at the bottom of the food chain because you're working within a large system. But that doesn't mean you aren't valued! You were hired for a reason.
While you'll likely have very specific assignments, your supervisor doesn't have time to hold your hand through every task. Use your common sense to figure out the best way to accomplish your tasks, and when possible, go above and beyond and prove you're capable of independent work. Start by identifying the goals of the company or the team you're contributing to and try to find ways to make yourself an asset in accomplishing those goals. This is not only a great skill to hone for the future, it's also guaranteed to get you stellar recommendations or maybe even a future job offer.