Student Internship Advice

Internship Advice I Wish I Had Been Given 
by Kakada Kuy

Internships are often the first work experience students gain during their study. This experience is invaluable in terms of practical learning. Internships provide opportunities for students to make use of what they have learned in class in a real-life environment. Internship experience may also be a criterion for job recruitments. Throughout my student life, I have interned at five agencies; some went well, but some did not. In retrospect, I have regrets about what I should not have done and should have done better during those internships. Here is some advice I wish I had been given.

Communicate clearly on the first day (or week) of your internship: Be sure to let your prospective supervisor know what you expect realistically from him or her. Let the company know your schedule because you never want to be absent without a prior notice. Always be punctual. Treat it like a class schedule. If you know right away that you will not be in on time or will not be able to make it in at all for the day, let your supervisor know via email or texting. Clear communication is key to gaining trust from your employer, as well as showing your professionalism.

Block time for no distraction: Use your time wisely – distance yourself from distractions. You are interning, aren’t you? Therefore, you should not be finishing your assignments, or other school work at the agency. Five-eight hours of you being there is worthwhile, so spend it wisely. Find something to do. Ask for more work. Read reports. Explore what the agency has done.  Socialize with your fellow interns. All these are what you should be doing. You must remember that you are interning. You are testing your potential. If you neglect the work, it can be hard to know what can be a better fit for you.

Ask for help if needed:  Never try to perform a task blindly. Asking for assistance is actually a strength, not a weakness. No one will evaluate your performance based on what you have done wrong; your performance is determined by your capacity to do the tasks, and the support you get along the way.  It will cost you less headache doing things correctly the first time.

Listen attentively. Your listening skill is very important when it comes to anything that involves communication. Being able to listen and understand situations is pivotal, and it makes communication easier and more convenient for those engaging with you. Especially in your internship, you are going to get a lot of instructions on how to perform your assignments. The supervisor wants the supervisee (you) to pay attention to what they instruct you (and that is what you are learning, too). You never want to finish the conversation not knowing what to do with the assigned tasks, nor do you want to ask for the same instruction twice. That being said, please refer to the previous point in case you are not really sure about what you are doing.

Obey the rules: I suggest all interns approach their internships like professional, paid employment. Never think that you are just an intern and neglect all the rules and regulations staff members must follow. The whole idea of internships is to train you prior to your real work, so make it real.

Mind your social media: Never add your supervisors on Facebook; try LinkedIn instead. Make it professional. More often than not, we tend to show our personal life or express emotions on Facebook. It may be a post like “Today is the worst day of 2017,” or “My first selfie of the year—Check-in at [YOUR AGENCY].” These sorts of posts may not appear problematic, but what if your supervisor just had a bad day too, and sent you a sharply-worded email, and then saw the “Today is the worst day of 2017” post of yours? Your supervisor may think you were commenting about the his or her email – even though, well, you did not mean to talk about that email. I might not need to explain the check-in post during working hour…because it is your office hour.

After the Internship

End it like a boss: The first day you stepped in, you wanted to leave a good impression of what you have shown off on your resume. The last day you step in, you should also want to leave a good memory that you, your supervisors, and staff members will remember. Say goodbye to everyone you have interacted with. Offer your appreciation to your supervisors, letting them know what you have learned/achieved/changed/understood, and, above all, take some time to reflect on what you have learned and then start thinking of the next steps towards your career. Do not forget to ask if you can reach your supervisors later for a recommendation letter.

Internships end, communications never: “Communications” with an “s” refers to all sorts of communications you can have with your (former) supervisors, from occasional emailing to LinkedIn connection. If you do not already have a LinkedIn account, you may consider getting one today. Keeping in touch with people we have met and worked with is vital on both personal and professional levels. In the future, you may need people who supervised you to write a recommendation letter for job or graduate school applications, or you may want to look back to people who used to help you grow to be who you are today.

All in all, internship experience is very important because it is a beginning of your professional life. In addition to building skill sets, both soft and hard, it allows you to understand yourself better as to what you want to do for a career in your life. I hope you find these suggestions helpful. Good luck, interns!

Kakada Kuy, an international student from Cambodia, is currently pursuing a Masters degree at the Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis.