Tips for Interns by Interns

By Ellen Zhang

Ellen Zhang

Ellen Zhang

Chief Marketing Officer

Internships can be some of the most valuable experiences for students and other professionals, but they can tricky to navigate. We asked 26 current and former interns what tips they would give to other interns. Here’s what they had to say.

Dana Dobbins, Former Intern at Husch Blackwell LLP

“Last summer, I interned for 10 weeks at Husch Blackwell LLP. While in law school, I also interned at the Boston University Office of General Counsel and at Southern Arizona Legal Aid.

I think the best advice I can give about internships is to take initiative. Seek out projects to work on; don’t wait for work to come to you. I did this by attending meetings to find out who was working on what kinds of projects, and then I would follow up with them. Sometimes I would even walk into someone’s office and ask if they had any projects I could help with. By taking initiative, I was able to meet new people in the office, find out what types of projects I enjoyed, and demonstrate my work ethic to my supervisors.

The other advice I have is to bring a notepad with you anytime you are called into an office or a meeting. Any time you get an assignment, take thorough notes. Then, at the end of the conversation clarify what your task is and how they want the final product to look (the “deliverable”), as well as the due date. If you find you are having trouble with your task, don’t be afraid to follow up and ask your questions.”

Marjon Momand, Former Intern at Enough Project/Center for American Progress

“Obtain your coworkers’ personal contact details after your internship is complete. You never know when they might come in handy for a future job prospect.

Volunteer for different types of projects. You will get to work with different people and might stumble upon a career path you never would have been interested in otherwise.

When discussing a project with your supervisor, bring a notepad and take good notes. Don’t be afraid to ask questions to complete a project to your supervisor’s satisfaction.”

Bissan Salman, Former Intern at UNICEF Tel Aviv

“As a part of my internship, I wrote and promoted a position paper for policy change on issues related to the representation of children in the media, and submitted it to the parliament. In addition, during the internship year I was chosen to join the CEO of UNICEF Israel to an international meeting for UNICEF in Geneva.

It is important that you feel comfortable to ask questions. You are there not only to learn from the tasks but also from the team. In addition, I wouldn’t have made it to Geneva if I didn’t ‘push’ myself and suggest ideas. Ask as much as you can. You came to learn, not only to fulfill obligations. Don’t be afraid to share your opinion. ‘Your way of thinking’ could guarantee your next position!”

Radhika Gupta, Intern at Stratosphere Lab

“Don’t just sit and work on your project and hang out with other interns; yes, that’s important but talk to older people about their experiences within AND outside of the company. These more experienced coworkers can give you amazing advice and insight into how they’ve reached to where they are, the failures they have faced in life and what they’ve learned from them. Besides work, talking about activities like traveling or reading can lead you to your next vacation destination or your next favorite book. Never take for granted the wisdom others have to offer and what you can learn from them.”

Paras Gupta, Former Intern at MacAerospace

“I was a Network Security Intern for a military company called MacAerospace. Don’t feel pressured to only work for big name firms. Interns will be able to get the same or even much better experience in a smaller firm. Internships are about learning as much as possible on the job. I recommend that every student pursue at least one internship experience because it will expose you to the real work lifestyle and give you a good idea of how life will be once you graduate and land a job in the field of your choice.”

Matt Indimine, Former Intern at the National Council on Independent Living

“Do not be afraid to reach out and find help with funding unpaid experiences and internships! Look into internship opportunities that might not be the ‘most talked about’ and really explore your interests.”

Kyra Conroy, Intern at Bosch

“Ask more questions, whether it is to ask for more work, more challenging work, or clarifications. Also, get to know your colleagues inside and outside of your division; it’s the best way to jump right in and learn as much as possible, especially for a short stint with an internship!”

Patrick Braga, Former Intern at Visum Development Group

“Keep a running log of what you do every day at work, including reflections. You’ll be surprised looking back at how much you accomplish!”

Prawallika Gangidi, Intern at Acumen, LLC

“Don’t be afraid of reaching out to coworkers and managers working on projects different from yours and asking to get involved or to learn more. It enhances your experience and helps build your credibility and reputation. This is especially helpful if you return as a repeat intern or new-hire, or if you ask your manager to be a reference!”

Carunya Achar, Former Intern at ACL CIO

“If you have flexible hours or you can work from home, don’t use that as an excuse to procrastinate and/or work from under your covers. It’s important to maintain a sense of work-life balance, especially if there’s no office building or set hours enforcing it for you: make a weekly schedule, set up a space that’s exclusively meant to be your “office”, and artificially create daily work habits (i.e. taking a 15 minute “break” to check social media instead of having it in the background at all times)!”

Lauren Fessler, Former Intern at Cornell Cooperative Extension

“I did an internship with Cornell Cooperative Extension the summer between my junior and senior years and loved it! My internship tip would be don’t worry if you can’t find exactly the type of internship you’re looking for. Find one in the field you are interested in and go for it! You might discover that you really enjoy working in that sector. I always thought I wanted to be strictly a laboratory researcher but through my internship I found out that I really enjoyed extension’s combination of research and outreach (so much so that I’m now working as an extension assistant!)”

Brian Guo, Intern at Google

“At the start of an internship, almost everyone feels like they don’t know anything. Do not get discouraged when you’re starting out. It might take a bit of time but you’ll eventually feel comfortable and start making contributions to the team. It’ll happen so much faster if you look forward to it instead of thinking about everything that’s missing.”

Shivani Parikh, Intern at MUFG (Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group)

“Use your internships to explore different workplace environments in the sector you’re interested in! This summer I’m a summer analyst at MUFG in the corporate social responsibility division, but for the summer of 2016, I was at a global NGO with the International Rescue Committee’s HQ and the summer of 2017, I was at a small nonprofit with Let’s Get Ready through Cornell’s Blumenthal Summer Internship Program. I have a better understanding of social services’ stakeholders in the city, where I can see myself building a career, and the professional pathways and graduate degree(s) I’ll need!”

Ethan Kramer, Former Intern at SpaceX

“Reach out and talk to many people in many different roles while you’re at your internship. It’s a great way to ask questions, learn about various different career paths and the company culture, and to hear advice from a wide range of people. It’s also a great way to make meaningful connections with people that will last past the duration of your internship. Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask to chat — people love to help!”

Shaibyaa Rajbhandari, Former Intern at Citi

“The advice I have for finance interns particularly is to mentally prepare for the tough hours and not complain about it. If you have gone through information sessions and done your research then you probably know that a career in finance won’t offer as much downtime as other jobs might. So instead of worrying about the hours, just go through with it till the end.

Another more general piece of advice is to be patient about adding value to the team. All of us want to prove ourselves by day one, however, we must be patient with ourselves, be a sponge and learn as much as we can before expecting to deliver solid results.

Finally, the best thing an intern can bring to a team is energy. Usually the effort of having to train interns is time consuming for the team and slows down their work, but the energy we bring reminds them of why they do what they do in the first place. So always be positive, energetic, and excited.”

Saie Ganoo, Former Intern at Procter & Gamble

“Don’t be afraid to wear a lot of different hats, especially in a startup internship. I have learned so much more from volunteering to help with the wet lab side of our product even though I was brought in as a Business Dev. intern, and it’s actually helped me connect the technical manufacturing to the customer experience. Often, you have to take the initiative to experience as much as you can and startups provide the unique opportunity where your managers will actually be willing to have you support their projects.”

Jeff Aldorisio, Former Intern at Black Duck Software

“Ask as many questions as you possibly can. The best part about interning is that it’s not a permanent career path unless you want it to be. Take it day by day, and write down the skills you’ve learned. It will give you the best feel for whether the career path is the right fit for you or not by the end of the internship.”

Alex Mancuso, Former Intern at Dassault Systemes

“There can be some downtime with internships but I believe it’s always good to ask your manager what else you can work on or if there is anything else they need help with. It shows you are eager to take on additional work and learn more.”

Sebastien Astoul, Former Intern at HSN

“Internships can provide a valuable pathway to a company’s employment. Many of these companies, such as Procter & Gamble, understand the value of hiring from within and are actively looking to promote interns to hires. Internships should not only be considered by students but also by young graduates or young professionals, who might be tempted to solely look for full-fledged positions. Internships are also valuable opportunities to enter and advance in the company of your dreams.”

Mike Saucedo, Intern at Google

“Defy expectations and dream big! As cheesy as it sounds, when you shoot for the moon you can miss and still land among the stars.”

Ellen Zhang, Former Intern at Launch Academy

“Internships are incredibly important for many careers. You’ll be able to get first-hand experience with your chosen line of work. You will also meet a lot of people that can be mentors and helpful for your career. Don’t forget to network and to step outside of your shell. If there are opportunities to socialize, take them. Speak with people who aren’t necessarily in your department. You never know who might know someone that could be critical for your career. Another important note: don’t be afraid to stand out. Take on the projects you’re handed and excel. Then ask for more and be challenged. Think outside the box and don’t just regurgitate your classroom notes. Shining during your internship will help get you a nice recommendation letter or even a job offer.”

Nikita Gupta, Former Intern at Apple

“Internships are single-handedly one of the most important milestones that you will experience in your career. Having interned and worked at both Fortune 100 companies and startups, I learned an incredible amount about workforce environments, contributing to projects, and working with teams. My biggest tip is to ask questions and don’t say no to new projects or tasks (within reasonable bounds). Try to get your hands dirty in all sorts of avenues at work, and ask questions when you need to. You’ll end up learning a tremendous amount from your coworkers about new skills and tools, as well as receive a broader understanding on how the company’s technology stack or products flow together. There’s no limit to how much you can learn, so you have to make the best use of your limited time during the internship to soak it all in.”

Ahva Sadeghi, Former Intern at the US Department of State

“An internship is a green light for you to network and meet other teams in the company. When I interned at the US Department of State, I used the opportunity to meet other departments and agencies in the bureau. Each day I had lunch with a new mentor and leader in the field. This enabled me to build my network, develop meaningful relationships, learn from leaders in my field of study and gain valuable insights.”

Alexandra Funk, Former Intern at Human Rights First

“One of the most effective ways to make a name for yourself while also cultivating desirable skills is through publishing your research and writing. Whether it’s an advocacy-based blog post or a longer research article (maybe adapted from an academic paper of yours!), publishing your work showcases that you have something to add to the conversation. During your internship, sit down with your supervisor and see if there’s an opportunity for you to do original writing and publishing. Even if you can’t have your byline on an organizational piece, the experience will be instrumental as you interview for and enter into full-time positions. If there isn’t the formal opportunity to publish during your internship, then research and write on your own time and find a platform that accepts guest contributors. You definitely won’t regret it!”

Alexander Keat, Former Intern at Electronic Ink

“Internships aren’t only about learning how to work, but learning about how teams work. Spend time watching how your leaders speak to and delegate work to your teammates and try to pick up the skills you believe are most effective.”

Yarden Kakon, Former Intern at Winston & Strawn LLP

“Ask a lot of questions and never fear that you are asking too many questions. People are flattered when you ask for their knowledge. This also saves you the time of finding the answers on your own and allows you to ensure that you are performing the way your employer wants you to. Interning is a learning experience so ask many questions and learn as much as you can!”

Get a pdf version of 6 tips to hang in your cubicle if you’re an intern or hand to your interns if you’re a manager.