You landed the internship. Congratulations! Now let’s talk about what really matters -- pursuing your internship experience with intention. All too often a student will reach out to me looking for advice because they aren’t satisfied with the experience they are getting from their internship. They are either struggling to get beyond the busywork, or they aren’t being given enough work. As I’m sure is the case for you, these students want to engage in meaningful work over the course of their internship.
While not all internships are created equal, and there are a lot of variables that can contribute to the experience you ultimately have at your internship, let’s focus on what you (as the intern) can control. Starting with a simple question: What if you didn’t just show up to your internship with the end goal of adding it as a line item on your resume, but instead you showed up with specific goals?
How do goals help you succeed at your internship?
Goals provide purpose and help to focus your actions. Focus is key, because internships can lack the kind of structure that you are used to as a student. When you’re in school, your goals are pretty straightforward -- pass your courses and graduate. The actions you focus on are writing papers and studying for exams so that you can pass your courses and earn credits toward graduation.
At an internship, how you structure your day (and what you accomplish in any given day) is largely your responsibility. If you’re lucky you’re given some direction, but you don’t have a course syllabus to follow. You need to establish goals to bring focus to the right actions. This will result in more meaningful work and the experience you’re looking for at your internship.
Start with how you can add value to the company
When you begin your internship, sit down with your manager to learn about company objectives and how you can contribute. Once you have an understanding of the tasks and projects that you’ll be working on, make sure you get clear on what success looks like. Take the time to ask clarifying questions, establish expectations, and set goals that are mutually agreed upon. This initial alignment will make it easier for you to track your progress and communicate effectively throughout your internship.
Then move on to establishing personal goals
Specific, personal goals are what really make the difference at your internship. You have to be your own biggest advocate for your experience. Go beyond the project or task-specific goals that you and your manager agreed upon, and set some goals for your own growth and professional development.
What do you want to get out of this experience? What are some personal goals that you could (and should) be setting for your internship? To give you some ideas, here are three types of goals I recommend you set to make the most of your internship experience.
You set a resume goal to focus on learning a new skill, or achieving a specific result, that will enhance the experience on your resume. Some examples include:
- Learn Java and deploy one new mobile app feature
- Grow the company’s Instagram following by 30%
- Create a SOP document for the company’s new remote work policy
The purpose of a networking goal is to ensure you are building valuable relationships that will benefit you beyond this internship. Some examples include:
- Schedule an informational interview with two people at the company each week
- Add 50 new connections to your LinkedIn network by the end of the internship
- Host a biweekly Zoom trivia night for your intern cohort
Brand goals help you polish your personal brand by boosting your subject matter expertise or developing invaluable soft skills. Some examples include:
- Write 10 posts for the company blog to strengthen your writing portfolio
- Earn a coaching certification in Olympic weightlifting (This is one of the goals I set and achieved as an intern!)
- Present project updates at three all-hands meetings to practice public speaking skills
The best goals are goals that you can measure. Make sure to give your goals quantifiable targets or timelines (or both).
Don’t forget to revisit your goals throughout the internship
You have a resume goal, a networking goal, and a brand goal identified. Great! Now use these goals to focus your daily actions and stay on track at your internship. Write them down for accountability, and record your progress weekly.
Your goals should push you outside of your comfort zone. Don’t stop working toward them when things get hard or uncomfortable. Remind yourself why you set these goals in the first place -- to make the most of your internship experience. You’ve got this!
Jenna Rein Zipf - Founder, The Intern Hustle
Jenna Rein Zipf is an internship expert, coach to students and recent grads and founder of The Intern Hustle. The Intern Hustle is dedicated to inspiring students into intentional action, with the education and resources to take control of their future, one internship at a time.
By Jenna Rein Zipf