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The Five Most Important Things To Do During Your Summer Internship

Even the lamest internship can provide valuable experience if you know how to play it right.

The Five Most Important Things To Do During Your Summer Internship
[Photo: FS-Stock/iStock]

You scored a summer internship, but maybe it’s not as exciting as you’d hoped. Filing, data entry, and coffee runs may not seem like meaningful work, but it’s possible to turn the experience into something rewarding.

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More than three-quarters of recruiters say that past work experience is more important than a college major for entry-level candidates, and 70% of college seniors agree that internship experience is more valuable than their college GPA when applying for a job, according to a study by talent acquisition software provider iCIMS.

Instead of being disappointed with mundane tasks, here are five things to do to turn them into an opportunity for the future.

Understand Why Your Work Is Important

There is a reason that the little things need to be done, even if they may seem tedious, says Kevin Grubb, executive director of the Villanova University Career Center.

“There may be regulations that require organizations to keep orderly, physical records of specific transactions or communications,” he says. “Organizing data in a system may be necessary for a huge report that needs to be delivered to a key advisory board.”

Ask your manager what they saw as the most valuable aspect of your time, says Kimberly Schneiderman, practice development manager at RiseSmart, a career development firm. “Perhaps all you saw was that you collated papers in a file for two straight weeks, but your manager is able to see that what you actually did was reconcile 14 months of backlogged invoices that allowed the company to pursue collections with delinquent accounts,” she says.

When you detail your experience on your resume later, you can explain the work you did and why it was essential for the organization, says Grubb.

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Hone Your Work Ethic

What you get out of your internship is what you put into it, says Vicki Salemi, career expert for Monster. “There aren’t any shortcuts to working hard so give it your all, even if you’re not head over heels for the job or company once you’re in the door,” she says.

Part of gaining responsibility is showing that you are capable of handling it, adds Schneiderman. “Few people will walk into a situation and be immediately trusted to manage projects or take on complex tasks,” she says. “Pay attention to the minutia of the tasks you are given and make sure you do them well.”

An internship is an opportunity to show the value you can bring to the organization, says Schneiderman. “Hit the ground running and impress your manager by finding areas where you can make an impact quickly,” she says.

Ask For More Responsibility

Once you’ve demonstrated your abilities, show interest in taking on more work. Ask questions about projects that you see going on around you, about the customers and target markets, and about the work individuals are doing, says Schneiderman. Seek first to understand what they are working on, then offer to help.

Since internships are often for short periods of time, there may be resistance to giving you something big that would need to be taken on by someone else when you leave. “Your best bet might be to be a valuable assistance on a project led by someone else,” says Schneiderman.

Approach them by saying, “I have some free time today. I’d love to be able to help you with your work in some way.” Schneiderman suggests.

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Observe Corporate Culture

Internships offer an opportunity to compare real life to what you’ve learned in class or hypothesized, says John Nykolaiszyn, director of career management services at Florida International University College of Business.

“Pay attention to your surroundings, pay attention to people and situations, and pay attention to the conversations taking place around you,” he says. “If you wear headphones, you’re missing out.”

Research the internal and external environment, says Nykolaiszyn. “Don’t ask the boring questions,” he says. “Ask why the company does what it does. Ask to attend meetings as an observer. Use that opportunity to test your original assumptions.”

Network

Summer internships are the time to take initiative and start building connections. “Politely ask [people] to talk about their career path over a brief coffee break,” says Grubb. “When they agree to this, remember that you’ll be in charge of the meeting, including coming up with a list of thoughtful questions to ask–nothing too intrusive–and making sure that you start and end on time.”

Try to set up at least one meeting each week, but make sure to check in with your manager that it’s okay first. “Even though your job duties may not be glamorous-sounding, the connections you can build during your internship can pay big dividends in the long run,” says Grubb.

Also, build relationships with the other interns, says Salemi. “Instead of eating lunch alone, ask them to join you or to go for a quick afternoon coffee break,” she says. “Make friends on the job – it will not only be more fun that way, but then you’ll also have a network to tap into once you’re back at your different colleges in job search mode.”

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Then keep networking after your internship is over. “Even if you aren’t hired full-time at the end of your internship, it doesn’t mean you couldn’t be hired at a later date,” says Schneiderman. “Keep those contacts warm and continue to communicate and network with the people you met during your time at the company.”