Initiative matters. Most firms require that their future employees be self-starters who can show initiative on their own or as part as a team. But as a student who is just beginning to craft a resume and work experiences, how can initiative be redefined, expressed and noticed once you secure an internship?
The key to this question is context. To truly stand out, you must do something that goes above and beyond from what is expected or from what has been done by other interns in the past.
Here are three tips on how you can show initiative and stand out in favorable ways:
1. Internship Proposal
Firms have a mission statement for a reason- they want to craft a framework through which they can assess and evaluate their work. It can only help and motivate you when you have articulated to yourself why you are interning for specific firm or industry. Do not underestimate the power of clarifying this for yourself.
Certain firms ask you to state your expectations of the internship in a cover letter or in a personal essay. If you have already crafted an informal version of your goals, aspirations, and expectations, you can more comfortably communicate this in conversation with your supervisors. This will help you stand out in one great way: while other interns reflect on their internship experiences after it is over, you start with a vision that will allow you to reflect on it in a much deeper way. Listing the projects that you worked on is always informative–but if you talk about your projects within the context of your initial expectations, employers see that you take a key role in defining yourself in the workplace and thoughtfully reflect on what you do.
However, though it is favorable to communicate your expectations and goals for the internship to yourself and your supervisor, make sure that you communicate flexibility as well. You are, after all, an intern who is there to learn- not an expert in the subject that has enough leverage to make demands about what projects you want to work on. We all have to start somewhere.
2. Internship Journal
While an internship proposal might help you clarify your goals, an internship journal helps you keep track of your daily projects, interactions, and experiences. Keep sections devoted to remembering names (and thus building your network!), as well as specific details about projects that you have worked on. Most importantly, be reflective in your writing–don’t only write about what you learned about an industry or computer program. Also write about interactions with your colleagues, your experiences working on a team (if applicable), and how certain projects challenged you or met your expectations.
Treat this journal as a reference guide for building your resume and being an effective interviewer. I kept an internship journal during two of my internships. Having a journal made it easier to remember everything I did and more effectively describe the experience in my resume. Especially when you are young in your career and you are accumulating a variety of different jobs and internships, it is good to have a record that you can refer back to.
And, if you find yourself as I have, some firms will ask you about specific instances where you faced a challenge at work or when you disagreed with a team member. Having a journal helps you review your experiences and makes it easier for you to talk about them in detail in an interview. And remember: the more sure you are of the details when you speak about them, the more confidence you convey. Journals help you gain that confidence.
3. Feedback Requests
Constructive criticism and feedback are a part of the culture at a lot of firms. Even when I worked at my first job in retail when I turned 16, I had evaluations done by a supervisor every six months to give me feedback on my performance. Given the fact that this is ingrained within the culture in a lot of work settings, you should not feel hesitation in requesting a review, even if you are only doing a summer internship for three months.
Most interns (and people) don’t naturally seek out constructive criticism at their internships even when they are doing things well and getting their assignments completed. If you casually ask your supervisor to give you feedback because you want to do your job better, this will make you stand out in two ways. First, you will communicate maturity and show that you take initiative in a way that a lot of your intern peers might not . Second, you show that you care about the projects you are working on and about the internship itself- and warrant the time that your supervisor invests in your internship experience.
Come recommendation time, though the supervisor might not be able to list the exact projects that you worked on, they will remember your attitude and approach toward your internship. However, do not expect that the coordinator or supervisor will take time to give you feedback–they may be strained for time or resources. Keep this in mind–but remember that it never hurts to ask.
While it is true that finding an internship shows initiative, true initiative comes from owning your experiences. Remember that the little things can show great initiative–the point is to keep your attitude and approach consistent. By being proactive with your projects and with your supervisors, developing an internship proposal and journal and requesting feedback, you can stand out and shine above other interns.
These are only three small ways that have potential of making a big difference.
Any other ideas?