6 Lessons I Learned as an Intern + Tips for Getting the Most Out of Your Internship

Having just graduated college with two internships under my belt and now settling into my post-grad career, I realized today I’ve been calling on experiences I gained in my internships to adjust to this new work life.

Internships are awesome for students; they offer experience not otherwise attainable to young adults still making their way to the graduation finish line (keep going, you can do it!) and they look bomb on a resume. I realized I learned a lot more than technical lessons, I learned some pretty valuable life lessons during my internships as well.

6 Lessons I learned as an intern.png

Summer Internship. In the summer of 2018, I interned at the Air Force base. I was super pumped; it’s kind of big deal to be hired any where on base, and I was getting the opportunity to actually intern under some important people. It was my goal from the very beginning to impress their pants off, so much so they would offer me a full time job.

When I start any job or any project, I start off strong. I make good impressions, I put my most friendly, bubbly, outgoing, hardworking self first; I sustained this positive attitude for a long time during my internship until days turned into weeks and still, no work was landing on my small, flowery decorated desk. I spent most of the week doing summer school work, bringing notebooks to write in, and walking around the office bugging people for any work. For two or three days in a row, I was organizing and cleaning out file cabinets (living the dream, right?)

EVENTUALLY, my supervisor felt so bad she gave me Org charts to update. Saying that my eye twitches every time I hear the word “Org chart” is an understatement. These charts were a huge mess to untangle and no one gave me a crash course on the software. For literal weeks I taught myself how to use the software while also attempting to get the charts done in a timely manor. But, every time I thought I had done a good job, my supervisor told me I needed to undo most of the charts.

As much as I appreciated what little work they gave me (not really) I couldn’t get out of their fast enough. I felt like I had honestly lost brain cells sitting there day in and day out listening to men in my office bicker obnoxiously while I tried to get someone to actually teach me something. I was on job sites for hours, throwing out my resume left and right to any minimum wage job or internship that would work around my last semester of school.

Fall Semester. I ended up finding a company a friend of mine also interned for. I had a few interviews and was soon offered the internship, I put my two weeks notice in at the base and was out of there. I started my second internship in September doing exactly what I wanted to be doing with my life; writing.

I was hired as a technical writer for Woolpert, Inc. and I was absolutely in love with everything; the building, the people, the work I was assigned, the coffee freshly brewed in the mornings. The work day would come to an end and I couldn’t wait to jump back in the next day. Once again, I was working hard toward the goal of being offered a full time position. I felt like I fit in pretty well, I was learning really fast, and being trusted to help the team with documents within my first week. I’m a good writer and I felt recognized for it finally.

The further into the semester I went, the slower work became. I was asked to do less work each day and soon, my trainer stopped visiting me at my desk to tell me about my assignment. She would give me busy work to complete within the company software, which I did diligently, and have me finish smaller parts of proposals. Without any warning or feedback, it felt like I was being pushed out. Sometime in November, my supervisor took me to lunch and told me I should expect a job offer soon and they wanted to keep me as a full time employee after I graduated. At the beginning of December, she changed her mind and told me I had until the 15th and then I was done.

Cue a mad anxiety attack plus a lot of anger. Sparing you the gory, raged-filled details, I went back to my desk that day, loudly shoved all my desk goodies into a box, closed all the work I had been doing, and started looking for jobs. I didn’t care if they gave me any more work to do; I had to take care of myself and figure out how I was going to pay bills and support myself.

Months have put space between me and both internship experiences, and since hindsight is 20/20, here is what I’ve learned at the end of it all.

Ask for feedback. Even if you seem well liked and feel like you fit in with the company, ask for feedback. I was let go from Woolpert for reasons unknown to me. For months, I was under the impression I was good enough because no one told me otherwise. Ask for feedback before they blind side you with a decision you can’t come back from. Plus, feedback helps you grow as a person/employee.

Stay/look busy. When work is slow, stay busy. Ask your supervisor if there is anything you can help them with and ask your coworkers if there is any help you can offer them. Don’t look or act like a sitting duck, because that’s what you’ll end up being.

Be a sponge. Learn all you can during your internship. Unfortunately, there is not always real job security with internships. The more you learn, the more valuable you become to the company and the more likely they will see you as a great addition and asset to the team. My biggest tip is to carry a notebook around with you everywhere!

Set a goal. I’m all about goal setting. I need something to work toward! In the case of my internships, my goal was to be valuable enough to get a job offer. Having a goal keeps you working hard even on the slow days. Whatever you have to do, keep reaching for that goal. (Setting small goals to achieve every day is also a great tool. When I was at Woolpert, I set three small goals for myself every day. For example, finish five resumes, rewrite ten job descriptions, organize computer files). 

Get in their face. One thing my supervisor told me as she was destroying me dreams of being a technical writer was, “we need someone who is more in our face.” At first, that really pissed me off. In hindsight, I really wish I would have been more assertive. Whether that is asking for work, communicating a concern with your team, asking for feedback, etc. be assertive and let everyone know who you are and that you are here to stay.

Be so good they can’t ignore you. 

Judge them, too. During your internship, the company will be judging and assessing to see if you are a good fit for them, but don’t forget you are also deciding if they are good enough for you. You could be working at this company for 30+ years! Make sure you actually love the work you are doing, the people you are working with, and the benefits they will offer you. You also don’t want to work for people you don’t get along with or can’t see eye to eye with.

If you related to my internship experiences, I have good news. Everything happens for a reason, whether you get the job offer or not. Just two months after leaving Woolpert, I found a much better job; a job doing what I love, a job that offered me new experiences and job training, a job with way better pay and benefits. There is something for you out there!

There will always be someone or some company not able to see your worth or your hard work but the right place and the right people will make you feel valuable, good enough, and worth the time to help you be your best. I encourage every student to look into internships or a study abroad program! Get out there, grow your mind, and don’t let them forget your name.

Dream big, work hard, stay focused, and surround yourself with good people. 

~ Shelby B.
Insta: Shelbycolada
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