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Whether you recently graduated or you’re still a student, you probably know that taking on an internship is a great way of transitioning from university to industry.
We got advice from an expert — Alec from Intern — and put the question to our Instagram followers: How do you make the most of an internship?
First Impressions Count
Making a good impression at the beginning of your internship will set the tone and help you settle into the role. Having a mindset that is free of judgment and hostility is essential to start things on the right foot. As @lwinggy puts it: “Always come into the studio fresh, positive and open”, so make sure you’re getting a good night’s sleep, are eating healthily and resting adequately in your spare time.
2. Take initiative
If there is a specific skill that you would like to develop while interning, but your boss isn’t giving you the right opportunities, make it happen for yourself. As Alec from Intern says, “It’s very easy to fall into this trap when you start somewhere if there is no clear structure. You end up spending time on your phone waiting for someone to give you a task, instead of actively seeking one and that will not help one bit.”
Whether you feel stuck cutting patterns, organising file cabinets or creating endless spreadsheets all day, remember to ask for more challenging tasks after everything else is finished. “If you don’t ask, you don’t get” said @megangrinhamfashion.
“Being self-directed and taking initiative is really important, on top of just doing the given tasks,” says Alec. “It might happen that your employer has quite low expectations of interns meaning that they’re unlikely to assign you an exciting project. If you share your goals with them and propose setting new goals together, it’s a great motivation for both sides and it shows your ambition, confidence and value.”
3. Go the extra mile
At the beginning of your internship, your schedule will be probably be filled with basic tasks and you might not have time to ask for more. Don’t be discouraged and take every opportunity with enthusiasm. As @aliceherrondesign points out: “The more you put in the more you get out! Put maximum effort into the smallest of jobs and you’ll soon be trusted with much larger tasks.”
Learning transferrable skills is valuable not only to succeed in your future jobs, but also can help you understand the industry better. “Be a sponge”, says @melissamehrtens, and get excited about drafting emails for PR companies, answering the phone and mastering KeyNote.
4. Create your own role
If you see a gap in your company that can become your area of expertise, seize the opportunity, says Alec. “If you feel like the role, you’d suit best in the company does not exist yet, don’t be afraid to do so,” he says.
“I know plenty of examples of when a person turned their first role into something that they’re a perfect fit for now.” You will not only impress your boss but also it will help you define your strengths and weaknesses.
5. Learn workplace etiquette
One thing you don’t get taught at school is how to handle office politics. Every company seems to have different etiquette, but we can all agree that being professional and polite is the bare minimum you will be expected to have.
It’s sometimes easy to confuse politeness with friendliness and assume that you need to like everyone you work with. Remember that you’re there to learn and gain experience, not to make friends for life. “Making sure you’re being treated respectfully,” said @ivana_rexach.
6. Build your contact list
“Contacts are one of the most valuable things you can get from an internship. Knowing the value of your contact list can get you far”, says Alec. “Understanding who people in the company are, how their role fits into the industry, and getting to know them on a more personal level (if they’re nice people) has helped me a great deal with shaping my career path,” he explains. “Even if you’ve had a bad time during your internship, you can leave with prospects for new positions and new potential leads.”
7. Know when to quit
The general idea of an internship is that both parties — the intern and the company — gain from it. For many companies, hiring an intern has only one benefit: mundane jobs that no one else wants to do will get done. @elodie.carstensen told us that in one internship, she spent 2 and a half months counting buttons. It goes without saying that this is not a job that will progress your career.
Sometimes things don’t work out the way expected, and it’s important to recognise that you might be taken advantage of and simply wasting your time. If you feel like you’re not learning valuable skills from the internship, even after discussing your tasks with line manager, it might be a good time to quit and look for internships that will teach you more.
8. Work for people who value you
“If a company isn’t willing to pay you at least minimum wage, it instantly tells you a lot about how they perceive you and the role that you’re working” warns Alec. “Unfortunately, fashion is awash with unpaid internships and it’s a problematic culture that excludes anyone who can’t afford to work unpaid.”
“If you do take on an unpaid position, don’t be surprised if you’re treated poorly. People who see you as free labour rarely make up for that by investing their time in mentoring you.” If you want to be respected, valued and surround yourself with people who can help you grow, then spend your time seeking out opportunities with companies who understand how much you have to offer.
Words by Eva Kubacka