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Labor Day Advice: How to Ace Your Internship

The agonizing wait of learning if you got the coveted internship you really wanted is over for most. Students across the country have either started their fall internship or will in the next week or so. Congratulations, if that’s you!

Now that it’s official, it’s time to make sure you’re equipped with the right survival tools on how to communicate your concerns with your supervisor and how to make a lasting impression. Khalilah Starks is the woman to talk to because she has answers for almost any and every situation an intern might get placed in. As the founder of Higher Powered Professionals, she provides students and professionals with inside knowledge on the job search process, career development and workplace relations. JET thought it would be interesting to create a few scenarios and let this expert share the best way to handle each one. (You might want to take copious notes.)

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JET: The intern was told he/she would get real work experience, but it’s already been a month and all they’ve done is make copies, answer phones and put together a contact sheet through Microsoft Excel. How do they approach their supervisor about wanting to do what they thought they were hired to do?

KS: Unfortunately, this is a bit common because supervisors and managers are very busy and creating real work for an intern can be even more work for the supervisor because they have to create the work,  monitor their progress, coach or train the intern and then evaluate the work.  That is why the intern will need to take ownership. They need to make it easy on the supervisor because that’s all that it is. More than likely, the supervisor is really busy so they need to really take the time to identify the projects they would like to work on and ways they can be helpful to the supervisor or to their office. This really takes observation on their part and a lot of initiative.  It’s all about observing what’s going on in the office, how can you make it better and then telling your supervisor, ‘Hey, I’ve identified some things I really want to work on,’ and have a conversation from there.

JET: Well, some might not know how to approach their supervisor. How do you best approach him or her without alarming them?

KS: It’s a quick conversation. You say, ‘Hey, I’m a month into my internship. I’ve been having a great time. I want to talk to you about the things I’ve learned and the experience I’ve had so far. I’ve got some ideas on how I can contribute to the office. Can we set up some time to talk?’  When you think about that conversation you have with your manager, the important thing is to keep it positive. Maybe you haven’t really had the substance of projects that you want, but maybe you emphasize that you enjoy building relationships with the other employees. You’ve enjoyed getting to know the customers. Think about what are the positive things that you can grab from that experience and that’s how you start out and then from there you move into your objectives.  When you think about your objectives, what is it that you want to accomplish? What are the opportunities you’ve identified in the office that you can make better, that you can contribute on a greater level, that’s kind of the next piece of that conversation.

JET: Okay. So what if the intern hasn’t received any negative comments on their work, but the internship is wrapping up and they still feel like the detailed feedback is missing? They’re told their work is “fine,” or “you’re doing well,” but they want more. What can they do?

KS: People are not the best at giving detailed feedback and managers are not the exception. They rather say, ‘good job, good job’ and it’s hard to give a person negative feedback.The best way to approach this topic is by starting that conversation with a positive. You want to tell them you’ve had a great experience, you’ve learned a lot, but you’re looking for some feedback on your performance and what you need to say specifically is, ‘Can you tell me what did I do best? What are some of the things I did really well? Can you give me some examples?’ then you want to ask, ‘What are some of the things I can do better?’ because if you say, ‘How did I do?’ they’ll say ‘You did a good job.’ You want to ask more open ended questions as opposed to close ended.

JET: Great. Hopefully, this next scenario doesn’t happen, but if it does, our readers will be prepared. Okay, so how do you handle the full-time employee who seems to have it out for you when you’ve done nothing wrong?

KS: First off, this happens a lot, unfortunately. You can’t control others. It’s not your problem, it’s theirs. The only thing you can control is your actions. You need to understand that some people will pick on the weaker person, or that perceived weaker person, or insecure person, which can sometimes be the intern. It’s important that you try to be and continue to be as confident as well.  It’s also important for you to take a step back and ask yourself, ‘Okay, am I being sensitive?’ because some of us are more sensitive than others.If that behavior gets to the point where it’s disruptive, or it’s interfering with your work, then you should discuss the issue with your supervisor.

JET: This is probably the most important question so we saved it for last. How do you make the best first impression?

KS: Of course you want to dress for success because that first impression is all about how you look so you want to dress professionally, you want to make sure your hair is professional, everything. I would say you want to start your first day with a great understanding of the organization, the department, your boss. So ultimately, do your research. It’s going to show as you interact and converse with your supervisor, it’s going to show that you’re knowledgeable and that really impresses people because that shows that you took some time to prepare so you’re excited and it allows you to hit the ground running.

Well, that’s the advice from our High Powered guest.  If you have insight for interns or a question you’d like us to pose to Khalilah, please leave us a comment below.

(“Student girl using electronic tablet at school” image via ShutterStock)