Treat Summer Internships Like Jobs

College students are under an enormous amount of pressure to land strategic internships to make their resumes more robust. Internships can provide great experience, but just because you’ve landed one — even if it’s a most coveted one — doesn’t mean it’s game, set, match. It’s okay to pat yourself on the back, but don’t you dare think it’s time to slack off.

Even if your internship is unpaid, or provides only a small stipend, you will do well to treat the internship like a job, not like a temp assignment.

It might only be for the summer, and you may have no interest whatsoever in leveraging the internship for a full-time position at the company after you graduate, but you have to do more than just show up to make it valuable.

Here are three tips that will make your summer internship count:

  1. Demonstrate a positive attitude. Just because your employer outlines your hours doesn’t mean you can’t, or shouldn’t, arrive early and leave late. Exceeding expectations shows you are committed and ambitious, and you consider the job a priority. It also will give you a chance to socialize with coworkers, as the office tends to be more relaxed before and after hours, and to read the newspaper and organize your workspace.

    This might require curtailing your nightlife to ensure you are well rested and alert, but it’s well worth it! And don’t go burning your candle and both ends, or it will be obvious to your colleagues that you’re behind on sleep.

  2. Make sure you look and are busy. Many companies haven’t thought enough about interns’ daily and weekly responsibilities, and even if you asked about your role during the interview process, the chances are you were so eager to land the job that you didn’t really focus on the answer to the question. So what should you do if you aren’t busy enough? Easy. Find the person or people in your department who may need help, and let them know you are available to help.

    No matter what you do, there may not be a well-defined role for you, but don’t just sit at your desk staring at your computer. Talk to the person who hired you, and let her or him know you aren’t busy. If the person can’t come up with any suggestions, find a better situation elsewhere so you don’t waste your summer.

  3. Be Social. Don’t just sit at your desk pretending to be invisible. Introduce yourself to your co-workers. Learn about what they do. If you are invited to join a group for lunch, it doesn’t matter if you aren’t hungry – Go! Become a part of the team. Ask for advice, especially about ways you can contribute more or improve your work. Don’t be the intern whose name no one can remember after the summer. Social has its limits, though. No marathon drinking with co-workers or dating in the workplace.

Internships can be a wonderful learning experiences, or they can be wastes of time. For the most part, it’s up to you. Remember, when you interview for a full time job you are going to be asked about what you learned at your internships. If all you can respond with is silence, that will be very telling indeed.


Lesley is president and founder of Priority Candidates, which prepares college students and recent graduates nationwide to get hired for their first jobs.   Previously, Lesley spent more than 25 years in executive search, working with candidates from entry level to C-Suite executives in organizations ranging in size from small, family owned businesses to large international organizations.  Her fundamental knowledge of what hiring manager’s look for is the core of what Priority Candidates does to prepare college students/recent grads to get hired now.  An alumnus of Duke University who is based in New York City, Lesley has been featured in USA Today, ABC’s New York Viewpoint with Ken Rosato, ABC News with Art McFarland, The New York Times, NY Nightly News with NBC4’s Chuck Scarborough, eCampus News and John Tucker’s Small Business Report on Bloomberg Radio.   Lesley always welcomes connections via LinkedIn, on Twitter , or by email or phone, available on her website.


Related posts:

  1. Internships and Part-time Jobs: 3 Ways They Can Help Your Career
  2. The Right Post-Graduation Move: Internships
  3. Should You Be Looking for Jobs or Interviews?

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