5 simple steps to make the most of your internship.
Internships or work experience placements can be hard to find.
You might spend weeks searching for placements, asking family and friends for opportunities, or applying for jobs you never hear back from. There’s a better way - make sure to read to the end for an exciting new platform to connect with employers that are looking for students like you.
Ok, so you’ve got an upcoming internship or work experience gig and after all that hard work in finding it, you want to make the most of it.
Luckily, we have 5 easy steps that will ensure you not only get valuable experience but also set yourself up to be noticed by the hiring manager.
1. Smash Day One
Calm those Day 1 nerves to make a great first impression.
We know starting a work experience placement can be overwhelming. You’ll have to find your way to the office on time, meet a bunch of new people and read through pages and pages of info about the business… and that’s just on your first day.
So, before you walk in the door help calm your nerves with the tips and tricks we’ve given in this must-read article.
Then, once the basic introductions are complete, your supervisor is likely to give you a few simple tasks. You might be quick to judge, thinking “anyone could do these jobs” or “this has nothing to do with what I’ve been studying,” but it’s important to remember why they’ve been assigned to you.
Your supervisor will often deliberately choose tasks that don’t require constant supervision because, at the end of the day, they still have work to complete. These activities will also be aimed at giving you some independence, so you can work on one thing for a period of time without requiring constant assistance. Whether stated or not, your supervisor is looking to build trust and confidence in you, based on your ability to complete these tasks on your own.
So, what should I do once I’m given a basic or repetitive task to work on? Firstly, don’t just sit and nod your head.
As you’re likely to still have some underlying nerves (even if you don’t think you do), you should follow this simple process when learning a new task:
- Make notes as the task is explained to you.
- Ask as many questions as you need to.
- Make an attempt.
- Seek feedback from your supervisor.
If your supervisor suggests you need to make some changes, update your notes and implement the feedback into your second attempt. Then it may be useful to seek validation from your supervisor one last time to ensure you’ve hit the nail on the head before you continue working on the task independently.
But why should I make notes and seek feedback on such a simple task? Put simply, it’s going to help the future you. Keeping notes from your first few days will be useful down the track. You can look over them whenever you need to, whether that be in the next week (because you’ve forgotten everything over the weekend) or in a few months when you’re in a new role. Seeking feedback on that very first task will allow you to go forward with the self-belief that you’ve got your main job under control.
You’ll feel confident working on the task by yourself, knowing that you are doing it 100% correctly. Plus, now that you’re doubt free about how to complete the task it can act as an ‘anxiety anchor.’ You can use the task to calm your nerves at the beginning of every day or when you’re feeling a bit anxious about something else in the office.
Making notes and seeking feedback is also going to build your supervisor’s trust. Initially, making notes shows you are capable of listening to instructions. Then making an attempt and seeking feedback will demonstrate that you actually care about completing the task correctly. If you’ve then acted on their feedback and your second attempt is perfect your supervisor is going to be confident in your ability to continue working independently.
Building this level of trust on your first day is not only going to increase your chances of getting more exciting work during your placement, but also the chance of securing a paid job at the end.
2. Embrace the repetitive tasks
Whether you spend hours cleaning equipment in a lab, or find yourself making six coffee runs a day, there is always an opportunity to prove your value to the organisation.
Mundane, repetitive tasks are at the core of every work experience placement, so don’t feel too disappointed if you spend the majority of your time completing the same activity you learnt on Day 1. Regardless of what the task may be, you must view every repetition as a chance to demonstrate your work ethic. Once you’ve mastered the task your supervisor is mainly going to take note of how you approach your work. Are you complaining about doing the same task? Are you rushing through it? Have you lost interest?
So how can I demonstrate enthusiasm while completing mundane tasks? It’s easy to show enthusiasm in the first week of your uni semester. You’re setting goals, colour coding your planner, doing all the pre-readings. Then suddenly it’s Week 4 and you’re running on no sleep, drinking eight coffees a day and praying your assignment gets an extension. Likewise, it’s easy to show some enthusiasm at the start of your work experience. You’re genuinely excited about the doors it will open for you and how good it will look on your resume. However, it may be harder to show the same level of interest once you’ve been doing the same task on repeat for two weeks straight.
When you hit this enthusiasm slump it’s important to think about how you’re adding value to the organisation. After a few days you should become more efficient at getting your repetitive tasks done correctly. This is when you’ll truly start to add value to the firm as taking the mundane activity off your co-workers’ hands will free up their capacity to do more important tasks. Focusing on the value of your tasks will make it much easier to approach them with enthusiasm again.
How can I leverage this enthusiasm to get more exciting tasks? Once you feel like you’ve mastered your repetitive tasks and can get them done efficiently you may choose to talk to your supervisor about helping with other work. It’s important not to rush into this - you must be able to show your supervisor that you’re completing the repetitive tasks correctly.
When you’re confident you can balance getting your assigned tasks and some extra work done, you can approach your supervisor.
It’s best to lead with what you’ve enjoyed about the work you’ve been given and what you’re learning from it. Then show that you understand the value of these tasks before you ask for more work.
For example: “I understand why you’ve asked me to (enter data into Excel/clean the equipment/get coffees for everyone) as it frees up other people’s time to work on important tasks. But if you want me to do anything else I can balance doing this and something else.”
Not only do repetitive tasks give you the opportunity to show you’re a quick learner, an efficient worker and a team player, but a lot of the time these activities are the basis of what the organisation needs to get done every day. If you can demonstrate your work ethic and master them during your placement then you’re one step ahead of future applicants.
3. Balance working and networking
If you stay at your desk and continue working while everyone sings ‘Happy Birthday’ to Kate down the hall you’re missing the whole point of your work experience.
Real-world experience doesn’t just look good on a resume. One of the most valuable benefits of completing work experience is gaining a network of successful individuals who you can learn from throughout your placement and in the future. Plus, these will be the people campaigning for you to get a paid position a few months down the track.
How do I network with other people in the office? Networking is going to happen from the moment you step into the building on your first day. You might be introduced to the whole office, welcomed to your specific department or only met by your supervisor. It all depends on the firm’s size, structure and culture.
Nevertheless, you should always introduce yourself with your name, what your role is and who you are interning for. You’re going to constantly meet new people – in the office, in the lunchroom and in the bathroom – so it’s important to make a quick judgment about whether the person has the time to be spoken to. If they do have the time, here are a few questions to ask after they’ve introduced themselves:
- What is your role in the company?
- How long have you been here?
- What is an exciting project you are working on?
You could also ask if you can add them on LinkedIn. Then if someone’s role or project sparks your interest you may want to ask if you can chat with them about how they got to this position over coffee or lunch.
The more people you know at the company, the more likely you will find a job there. Connecting with colleagues on LinkedIn will increase your chances of seeing a job vacancy as it arises. If you’ve made a good impression or produced valuable work for them, they may reach out to you via email or LinkedIn when a position becomes available in the future. Better yet, they might even recommend you for the job!
4. Show initiative
You must always have a game plan for when you finish your assigned work.
Once you’ve mastered your repetitive tasks you’re going to be working more efficiently and soon, you may find you’re running out of things to do. When this happens it’s important to remember one thing – DON’T get caught on your phone!
The last thing you want is for your supervisor or other colleagues to think you are lazy or unmotivated because you would rather scroll through Facebook than ask for more valuable work. How do I ask for more work without constantly bugging my supervisor?
You have a few options…
Check with your supervisor:
While your supervisor doesn’t need hourly updates about what you’re getting done, you should let them know when you’ve run out of things to work on. They might have something for you to continue on with straight away. In this case, you could also ask them to make a list of any additional tasks as they think of them. This way, you’ll have an idea about what to work on once you’ve completed the new task and you’ll impress them with your drive to work independently.
If they don’t have any work to give you, you can reopen the conversation about helping with other tasks or ask if you can assist other colleagues. Your supervisor may suggest a few colleagues to ask or you could potentially bring up the name of someone you’ve met and been interested in working with.
Check with your colleagues:
Ask the recommended colleagues whether you can assist them with anything. Accept all work, even the mundane, repetitive tasks. At the end of the day, you’ll be taking the work off their hands and freeing up their capacity to complete more important tasks.
If you approach the work with enthusiasm and efficiency, these colleagues will appreciate your help and pass on positive feedback to your supervisor. The goal is to turn them into your biggest advocates by the time you finish your work experience and are looking for paid work.
If your supervisor or colleagues don’t provide enough work you could always suggest working on a task you believe will add value to the organisation. Think about this before you bring it up – brainstorm what you’ve learnt at uni and identify areas that could be useful and beneficial for the company. Also, think about what you’re good at and interested in so you produce the best work that you can.
If you can use any of these strategies to ask for more work - instead of staring at the wall thinking about your plans for the weekend – you’re going to demonstrate your initiative. It’s also going to prove you’re hard-working, willing to help others and there to contribute as much as possible, and those characteristics are going to be very attractive when the organisation is looking for their next employee.
5. Make your interest clear throughout
How is your supervisor supposed to offer you a job if they didn’t know you were interested?
You can’t wait until the last day of your placement to bring up your interest in future paid work. Your final day may become quite busy and you could miss your chance to have the conversation with your supervisor. Or they may be thrown off by the conversation because you didn’t seem interested from the beginning.
If you really want to secure a paid position at the end of your placement you’re going to need to set aside time throughout your work experience to show your interest.
How do I make my interest clear throughout my placement?
Ask for an informal feedback session when it feels natural to do so. Normally, around the halfway point of your placement would be a good time. Treat the feedback session as a conversation, not a meeting.
At the end of your informal feedback session ask if you can both set aside time on your last day to have a final feedback session. It’s important to schedule in the meeting so your supervisor doesn’t forget or plan something else in that time.
Come to the final feedback session prepared to talk about the tasks you have enjoyed doing, what you have learnt and how you feel you’ve added value to the organisation. Listen to your supervisor’s feedback and take notes.
As the meeting comes to a close state that you’re interested in future positions. For example, “I’ve really enjoyed my time here and I feel that I’ve learnt a lot about the business. I’d love it if you kept me in mind for any work in the future… and if there isn’t anything at the moment would you mind being a reference for me?”
Asking for a reference will show that you are actively seeking work and create some urgency for the employer. If they valued your contribution they won’t want to miss the opportunity to employ you, so even if they don’t have a vacant position right now you’ll be moved to the top of their recruitment list.
Even if you don’t get the job, none of these tips will go to waste. Make sure to use them again and again in each placement you secure.
You can find a number of great paid and work experience opportunities on Studium, a new online platform that is available to university students across Australia. Studium is the first platform that gives employers a real look at you as an entire person, rather than just a degree or a grade. You can simply fill out your profile, upload your best coursework, create an engaging video introducing yourself and connect with employers immediately. To get started with Studium go to studium.work - it’s free!
Though it’s not paid work, the more internships you get the better placed you are for a long and successful career with a wider network. If you can complete two or three internships before you graduate you’re going to have better insights into how your industry works and what employers expect from you.
Work experience also gives both you and the company the chance to ‘try before you buy.’ You’ll get a sense of what it’s like to work for them and they will work out whether you fit the company culture. So rather than leaving it to the last minute, get out there, showcase your strengths and put these tips to the test.