How to Make the Most of Your Summer Internship

Nathan Wilgeroth / Colleges of Distinction »

An internship is a great opportunity to test out your career field of interest, learn more about your major and, in many cases, earn college credit. If you have landed an internship this summer or are hoping to do one in the future, you will have the chance to excel as both a student and a professional. 

We at Colleges of Distinction had the excellent opportunity to collaborate with Dale Leyman, Assistant Director in Internship Programs at Nazareth University’s Center for Life’s Work, a groundbreaking Career Development office that prioritizes the lives of students’ purpose and meaning just as much as the jobs they get after graduation. To make the most of your experience and have the most rewarding internship possible, keep the following opportunities and strategies in mind. 

1. Be Open to Learning

Don’t expect to be perfect from day one—internships are all about learning! Especially outside of the classroom setting you’re probably more used to, applying your studies to a workplace environment could come with some challenges. Be listen to feedback, and ask questions to help you get a handle on both the job you’re doing and the subject you’re studying.

An internship is a crash course in both hard and soft skills. While it’s useful to learn about the technical aspects of your field of study, it’s just as important to gain the soft-skills practice that comes with working in a team. Project management, conflict resolution, teamwork, and leadership take practice and flexibility. Use this time to collaborate with your peers and managers, learning the keys to running an efficient group with a common goal. Your ability to work in a team will be crucial in whatever career you pursue.

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2. Take Initiative

Entering a career field can be intimidating, but this is finally a chance for you to see your studies in practice. Do your best, and always seek out opportunities to go above and beyond. Your supervisor will be able to see how much you can handle, guide you when you may need help, and find new ways for you to grow. 

“One thing I constantly hear from supervisors is that the best interns find ways to go ‘above and beyond,’” says Leyman. “Taking initiative, offering to pitch in and help out on tasks big and small, double-checking your work to ensure accuracy, and taking the next step on tasks or projects are a few examples commonly cited.” Being such a go-getter doesn’t have to mean that you end up working alone; in fact, your curiosity and initiative will let your supervisor know where your strengths are and how you can use them to help both your own growth as well as the operations of the organization. 

3. Immerse Yourself

Dale Leyman points out that internships are not only great ways to help you learn what career path to pursue, but also the type of organization you want to work for. “How does the mission, vision, and values of the organization align with your goals and values? What is the culture of the organization like? How is the organization structured? How can you take advantage of professional development opportunities offered by the organization? What is the organization doing to build an inclusive and diverse workplace?” 

The culture of an organization can vary widely, even within the same field. Dive into your position fully, immersing yourself in the team to know not just what the company does at a technical level, but also how it functions at an interpersonal level. Get to know what you like and don’t like about the company culture to help make informed decisions about where you’d like to work in the future.

4. Build a Relationship With Your Supervisor

While it’s incredibly important to adapt to the culture of your organization as a whole, you should pay extra attention to your relationship with your supervisor. They are, after all, your mentor in this experience. Get to know what their performance expectations are, how they prefer to communicate, and what they think is most valuable for you to learn. This will give you the direction you need to keep up with the work and operate smoothly as an intern.

 “How does your supervisor like to spend their time,” Leyman adds. “What energizes and motivates your supervisor? What do you both have in common?” Your internship is primarily a lesson in the application of your field of study to the real world, and your supervisor is there to lead you. But they’re human, too! “Having conversations about these and other topics early in the experience will help you build an authentic and trusting relationship.” Leyman reminds us that personal connections are helpful in professional settings, not hindrances. “You will feel comfortable asking questions, taking risks, and being your best self.”

5. Grow Your Network. 

Maybe the real work experiences were the friends we made along the way.

Sorry, I had to*. Truly, one of the most valuable things you can gain from an internship is a strong branch of colleagues to add to your network. Fellow interns, your supervisor, and others at the organization will all likely be alongside you should you choose to pursue a career in the same field. Even if your internship is short, your hard work and strong relationship-building can echo in a way that can help you in the future. 

Add your colleagues and managers on LinkedIn and keep in contact as you finish out college and enter the workforce. Any of them could act as a great reference during your jobs, while some might even be willing to hire you as a full-time employee!

*I didn’t have to.

6. Show Integrity

When your internship comes to an end, you will likely go through some sort of exit interview to review your strengths and where you have areas to grow. This, too, is when you have the opportunity to give feedback to the organization. Everyone in an organization looks for continual development, so be honest. Feedback on the internship program you went through could have a positive impact on the way the internship is run for the next person. 

Be receptive to feedback and use it as a guide in your studies as well as your next internship or job search. As mentioned above, perfection is not the goal. If you learned something new in your internship, then it is a success! Your further opportunities for growth come from your ability to listen to and utilize the feedback you’re given.

7. Reflect

“Take time to reflect on your experience (the what, how, and why),” says Leyman, “and make connections between previous experiences, your internship, and your future goals.” As you learn and grow in your internship, you also have the opportunity to assess the big-picture relevance of this program. Maybe you learned about a subtopic within the field that you want to specialize in. Maybe you learned that this career path might not even be right for you. That’s all great! These learning experiences will help you enter the workforce with a clearer idea of what does and doesn’t work for you. 

So many great results can come from an internship experience. Whether you’re working for a couple of weeks to a few months, you can let every moment in the workforce be a learning opportunity. Best of luck, and congratulations on taking this big step in your professional development!