Internships are a common way to ‘try before you buy’ for both a potential employee and an employer.

However, not all internships are the same and depend on the industry or sector and the specific company or organization.

Assuming it’s a paid internship and there is a genuine commitment for mutual benefit, how can you maximise your experience to improve your chances of making real progress in your career?

How to maximise your internship for career progress

So, you managed to get an internship and you are getting your head down, putting in the shifts, living and learning.

Time goes by and bye goes the time. How do you sustain the personal gains you make going forward?

I’ll show you how giving proper attention to three essential elements will give you a good chance of success – reflecting as you go along, building your confidence, and taking action.

Reflect in real-time

  1. Capture your reflections. Find a method that suits you (video/audio/paper diary), write a regular blog, tweet. Decide what you will record, how often, when to take stock and review. Build this habit into your current routine so you get a regular reminder and it pushes you to do it. Reflect on why you are successful and lessons learned. Break it down bit by bit.

For significant events, ask yourself:

  • What do I intend doing or not doing?
  • What did I do?
  • What was the result?
  • What did I learn about myself and others?
  • What surprised/did not surprise me?
  • What helpful or unhelpful patterns are emerging?
  • What will I continue doing, start doing or stop doing?
  1. Get mentored. Find someone on whom you can bounce your ideas, thoughts, feelings, learning, and concerns or go to for wise counsel. Look for someone you trust who can support and challenge you during your internship.
  1. Join an online or face-to-face group. Find like-minded people who want to learn, reflect on their development, and share good ideas and practices. For example, check out groups on LinkedIn.
  1. Get feedback. Your boss, colleagues at work, friends, and family are the people who know you best. They will have a view on what you are doing well and where you can improve. Ask them.
  1. Ask yourself tough questions. OK, this is the one where a cool, quiet place with a drink might be needed. Listen to what your guts say. For example, “How do I want to be remembered when l leave this internship?”

Reflecting is not a luxury, it’s a critical skill for the 21st Century learning.

As the Buddhists say, “Don’t just do something, sit there”.

Build your confidence

Aim to build confidence from your internship experience to help shape your offering to future employers.

From my experience, the people who are most fulfilled in life are those who are most comfortable in their own skin. They know and like who they are; have an inner confidence and belief in their own abilities irrespective of the circumstances; and feed that confidence through successes, giving, and a sense of personal direction and control over their lives.

With that in mind, here are 5 ways to bank your successes in the short-term:

  1. Set realistic goals: Articulate your aspirations and set 2 or 3 realistic goals for how and what you want to develop personally by the end of your internship.
  2. Be memorable: Identify the image you would like to project that reflects you and is one this employer will remember.
  3. Give freely: Give your time, knowledge and expertise to your colleagues without expecting something in return.
  4. Explore your potential: Play to your strengths and explore your current limitations. That means taking a risk by trying out new ways of doing things. See what works and doesn’t work for you.
  5. Show off your medals: Promote your successes to your boss, be explicit about what you have achieved and the difference it has made.

So, if you want to continue to build that confidence and maintain your employability, consider the wise advice of a previous mentor of mine and be:

  • Consistent with yourself and who you are
  • Insistent by being assertive and proactive
  • Persistent and determined in the face of challenges

Take action

Insight now needs to be handcuffed to personal responsibility and pragmatic action to increase your employability and achieve your next job or career step. How do you gain a dividend from your experience?

Remember, procrastination can be the warm woolly blanket of our childhood. Except, woolly blankets are scratchy. Scratch the itch and you’ll feel more comfortable.

With independence comes responsibility, as only you can decide what is best for you. That attitude of mind and sense of ownership can drive you to act. Instead of standing still, take some personal risks with your job hunt and career exploration in line with your values and beliefs.

Act your way into a new way of thinking, rather than think your way into a new way of acting.

Richard Pascale

Be aware, making the perfect decision can be an illusion. Making poor and good choices, experiencing failures and successes, are what makes us human and it is from doing that we get our wisdom. So why fight it?

Make a decision to do ‘X’ or go to ‘Y’ to open up the possibility of choices, new horizons, ideas, and opportunities.

Do nothing and you’ll get the same again or the environment around you will change without you on board. It’s a judgment call.

Finally, here are 6 ideas for action at the end of or after your internship:

  1. Get a testimonial or reference from your summer employer
  2. Write a testimonial for your employer’s organization and show you are a raving fan
  3. Send a thank you letter
  4. Revisit your CV/resume and update with examples
  5. Seek introductions to contacts in ex-colleagues’ networks
  6. Stay connected on social media

Your challenge

What have you done today to make your goal or dream a reality? What would you do if you knew you would never fail? Can you think of anything that will stop you from making your first step? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Want more? Download this free e-book I co-wrote with Mark Babbitt, CEO of YouTern – 21st Century Internships: How to Get a Job Before Graduation (250,000 downloads worldwide).

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