So you’ve secured an internship and now you are wondering how to make best use out of it in your career?
A foot in the Door
It’s important for you to remember that your motives and the company’s motive are similar but not necessarily the same. Your company is going to be looking at this exclusively as an appraisal opportunity: do you have the potential as a future full time hire? In many cases there will be structured internships where the position is fixed and there are set responsibilities. This allows a manager to assess your abilities in particular department or functional area. If successful this will allow you to join their ‘talent pool’ that the company will go to for future hires. Often, an internship is a prerequisite for entry into a permanent position.
Your motives should be a little different though. This is about assessing whether a certain company or career path suits you and your skills. Is this the sort of career that fits your expectations and is the company’s work culture and philosophy suitable for your mind set? Your internship is not an opportunity to simply collect a brand on your CV or pimp your resumé. You should use it as a genuine opportunity to assess a next step in your career. You may only get one or two chances at an internship, so choose wisely. And remember it is totally ok after the internship to decide that this is not the path for you and to change direction.
During the internship
From day one, be proactive. You cannot take your internship for granted, nor can you expect everything to be delivered on a plate. So don’t wait for task to be brought to you, if you have spare time, look around, see what is happening and how you can support. But beware of the most common intern mistake: don’t go with a list of improvements to your boss. Your manager will appreciate innovation and initiative-taking, but there is a fine line between this and arrogance. Remember, the people around you will have been doing the job for years and are most likely experts in their fields.
And stay professional. You may be the youngest and least experienced in the team but you have the opportunity to show maturity and make a good impression. Dress and act formally, especially at the beginning until you have worked out the policy in the team. Inform yourself in advance, or early on, as to the dress code or office habits. Don’t feel afraid of asking this at the beginning.
At the end
Be aware that your internship is a great opportunity to start building your professional network that will become useful as your career progresses. But don’t overdo it at this point. Many companies, especially in Germany, place a high value on hierarchy and senior managers may not appreciate Xing or LinkedIn requests from every intern they meet at the coffee machine. 2 or 3 strong contacts are better than 20 people who can’t remember you. By all means ask for a ‘Zeugnis’ (work certificate) but you should also try asking your manager if he would provide a personal reference in the future for you. This would be far more valuable and would be a good indication that you manager appreciated you.