Undergraduate Blog / Career Development

Maximize Your Internship Experience

When I arrived at my internship at the American Heart Association, I was expecting them to have a whole laid out plan of what I would do over the summer. I don’t know why I expected that, but I did. When I got there, I was sorely disappointed to hear that it was more like, “well, I guess you can go through old material and update it with new locations and dates.” A.K.A. I’d be doing the undesirable, tedious, and unfulfilling work that doesn’t do much to develop professional skills. The kind of work that doesn’t give any satisfaction, provide learning, and is just the work that the supervisors don’t want to do.

Most large companies have a formal internship program with orientation, dedicated supervisors, and tasks. However, many of you will undoubtedly learn that the company that you chose does not have that structure already in place, such as the AHA didn’t; have any internship structure prior to my arrival. The responsibility for your learning isn’t so much on the company to lead you but rather falls on you to take charge of your own learning. Let me repeat it again: you will be responsible for your learning. So, the question arises: how do you maximize your internship experience?

Now my little anecdote is most certainly not to dissuade you from applying to smaller companies. In fact, it’s the opposite. See, the companies that don’t have much planned for you are the companies where you are able to create your own value. I had two options after the first day: stay course or take action. I knew that I didn’t want to be doing that work all summer, so I did the latter. I asked for more, I began to formulate my own plan, and I began to design what I wanted my internship to look like. 

If you’re feeling bored at your internship without much to do, ask for it. People will be happy to hand off their tedious work to you, but even more happy if you produce quality work that surpasses their expectations. Go above and beyond at your internship and pleasantly surprise them. Not only will you stand out to your colleagues, but you’ll have a far more rewarding internship experience.  

I saw a quote on one of my co-worker’s desk. It read, “appreciated people will always produce more work than asked for.” This couldn’t be more true, and my supervisor has noticed. She rarely gives me mundane work to do (I still do a bit because let’s face it, I am still at the bottom of the totem pole) but the quantity has drastically reduced. I was able to drive my internship in the direction that I wanted and have already learned so much about various business aspects.

So I implore you to go above and beyond. You’re in charge of your internship experience experience, so maximize it.