Summer is approaching, and you know what that means. Beach parties, sun and sand. But also internships. For the next four months you’re probably going to feel like a fly on the wall, and not the good kind. No, you’re going feel like a literal insect blending into the background. You’re going to be an intern.
The good news is interns don’t have to be invisible. You really can be remembered by your employers. Remember, this is your first mark on the “real world.” Make it a good one.
1. Study like finals aren’t over yet
Becoming the best intern ever starts the second they tell you you’re in. Once you’ve gotten an offer, write a note or make a phone call to see how you should prepare for your big day. “You’ve continued that connection rather than saying ‘Great, I’ve gotten an offer and I’ll just show up on my start date,’” said Louis Gaglini, Associate Director of Employee Relations at the Boston College Career Center. Don’t rest on those laurels; they may even have a project for you to start. Show a little bit of initiative and it will go a long way—maybe all the way to a steady career.
2. Court your boss
Be a subtle psychologist: get inside your boss’ heads and find out their quirks. “The key is to ask questions,” Gaglini said. Of course, it’s all about asking the right questions. Ask them things like, “What is your management style? How often would you like me to check in with you? Is there anyone else I’ll be reporting to?” Get to the good stuff first; ask where the vending machines are later.
3. Don’t Sparknotes the job description
If you want to make the best of your few months, make sure you and the head honcho are on the same page. “Many students assume that they will be given interesting and challenging tasks during their internship, but it is up to the student, in part, to ensure that that happens,” said Peter Hunt, Assistant Director at the Boston College Career Center. Check out the job description before you head into an interview and make sure that it’s what you want. If you spend four months stapling documents, you only have yourself to blame.
4. Be a 5-star negotiator
Actually ask for what you want. You can even do this before you start on the job. “Work with your employer to draw up some sort of internship agreement that covers hours, pay (if any), potential projects, and learning goals,” Hunt said. Ask (politely!) and you may receive. Just start out slow; don’t ask to be promoted to CFO until you’ve at least written your first report.
5. Be more than a human calculator
Employers care about your performance, not your technical skills. Think Oscar-worthy actor, not fill-in extra. “When someone says ‘put together a spreadsheet,’ don’t say ‘what’s a spreadsheet?’” Gaglini said. “Meeting expectations is the minimum in an internship.” Employers expect you to know certain things, but it’s what you do beyond that that makes the difference. They’re looking for passion and drive, not just the ability to open Microsoft Word. I mean, come on, even my mom can do that. And she just learned how to attach a document to an email.
6. Play nice
Invite a coworker out to lunch. Who knows? You may gain more than a LinkedIn endorsement. “Those who like their work also tend to like talking about their work,” Hunt said. You may learn a thing or two from people who have been in the business since you graduated middle school. “Now you have a mentor or a confidant within, and they may be in a position to help you,” Gaglini said. Hey, if you’re mildly entertaining, who knows? Your lunch buddy may recommend you for your next big assignment. Sounds better than eating alone, doesn’t it?
7. Stop twiddling your thumbs
Pro tip: If you feel like you aren’t doing enough, you aren’t. “If there is a day that your supervisor doesn’t have a project for you, don’t spend the day playing games on your cell phone,” Hunt said. Even if you do all of your assignments, you can still help more. Ask around; don’t waste your time or your employer’s. Level 445 of Candy Crush can wait for the commute home, I promise.
8. Be one (or ten) steps ahead of your boss
Every once and a while, one-up your own boss by being more on top of the game. “If the supply closet is out of the name tags you need for an event the next day, find out who orders them and how fast they can get them in. If W.B. Mason can’t get them to the office in time, pick them up on your way home,” Hunt said. If you can ease whatever headache your boss is facing, they’ll be sure to remember. That’s right: be human Advil.
9. Give ‘tude—the good kind
Everything—even brewing pots of mediocre coffee—can be a learning experience. If you’re engaged in your work, no matter what it is, your employers will take notice. Hunt gave some wise words: “As Mother Teresa said, ‘We can do no great things but we can do small things with great love.’” So channel your inner Mother Teresa by seeing the merit in photocopies and even the most menial tasks.
10. Be part of the crowd
It feels counterintuitive, but you want people to forget you’re just an intern. “You stand out by fitting in,” Gaglini said. So blend in: take notes when your coworkers take notes, format your work the way your desk-neighbor does, and in general just put in the same effort as the full-time employees. You may be an intern now, but if your manager already confuses you for a real, full-fledged adult-like employee, then you may actually become one once you graduate!
So keep your cool. You’ll have a corner office by lunch. (No money back guaranteed.)