Every Intern Should Know
G'kar Jackson | COOL Intern
A professional internship can create a lot of bright opportunities for your future. But successfully adapting to the structure and needs of an organization can be extremely tough, regardless of whether or not you knew about the organization before or if it’s your first time being there. Therefore, I believe the key to an interns’ success is actually putting in the time, patience and effort to understand the workplace, and I’ll share some examples to illustrate how to do just that. I’ve been a part-time intern at the Institute of Women & Ethnic Studies (IWES) since August 2015, and I am continuing to grow within this professional experience. To anyone interested in or starting a professional internship, these are my recommendations to have a very successful experience.
How to Carry Yourself
Knowing what to wear can be tricky, especially if it’s your first time working in a professional setting. To make a great impression on other staff members at your workplace, every intern should dress in at least business casual attire on your first day, unless otherwise specified. Coming to work dressed in your "right mind" will complement your ability to perform as an intern. I see my attire as a mindset, and I’m serious about my job.
In addition to dressing appropriately on your first day, make sure you read all of the materials and organizational information you’re given (like an organizational handbook or policies & procedures manual), observe and ask other staff members questions to get a better understanding of the organization. It’s essential that an intern should understand the policies and procedures of his or her place of business. To better understand the information they provide you with, make sure to get some tips or pointers from other staff members about questions you have or about their experiences.
How to Voice your Concerns
If you’re confused about a certain part of your role, some questions can be answered by consulting the handbook and policies of the organization, while others may need the assistance of other staff members. If you can’t find the answer in the organizational materials, contact your supervisor to see what’s the best option for next steps. It can make many situations much easier if you understand the limitations of your role as an intern versus being a staff member. For example, you might be required to do certain things that are voluntary for other staff, and your supervisor can help you navigate your role and tasks.
In general it’s very important to remain in constant contact with your supervisor when completing various tasks. This will help them monitor your progress on each task, and determine how much responsibility to give you in the future. If you would like to take on more work or want to propose an idea, talk to your supervisor and establish whether or not it’s a good idea for you to take on more responsibilities. Knowing who and when to ask the right questions to and when and how to step up or step back are good exercises in leadership.
How to Embrace Opportunities to ‘Overachieve’
Overachieving at your internship can be a great resumé builder for your future career. It’s up to you to choose what will help you gain experiences that can possibly benefit your professional career. Within your workplace, opportunities should become available to you, and if they don’t, seek them out. For example, get to know other organizations at social events. That way, you may be able to make connections or facilitate partnerships to collaborate on different projects. Another possible advantage to overachieving is that the organization you work for may begin to value you in a new way. In some situations, an organization may see you as a potential staff member, and by you taking on more responsibility, they may invest the time and effort of developing you as a future employee.
Learn the Organization's Terminology
Be eager to understand the language commonly used within the organization, because a lot of the terminology or acronyms may be new to you. For example, IWES is a public health non-profit. When I started, I had to learn all of the acronyms and names of all the programs, as well as some basic public health jargon. It became my business to learn, ask questions, and listen during meetings so that I could get a comprehensive sense of both how each program operates and how they talk about the work. As an added plus, it could be a great way to impress other staff members.
Being adaptable and open as an intern will result in skills that you can apply to other organizational environments throughout your career. Based on my experiences at IWES and in the public health field, I’ve grown a comprehensive professional skill set. Through involvement in the organization’s functions and meetings and being open to expand my craft, I know I’ve had a very successful internship. For example, recently I took the lead in strategizing a local event called “The 50 States Dinner Party Project,” which was put together by the National Alliance for Media Arts and Culture (NAMAC). The goal of the event was to create local conversations about civic problems through simple dinners. I handled the planning, scheduling, and facilitation of the event, and the community’s feedback on my involvement was reported back to NAMAC.