How to Intern Like a Boss

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You did it! You got an oh-so-coveted internship. You’re feeling pretty good about yourself but you wonder if you’ll just fade into the background. Sure, the permanent staff seems to notice you when you’re bringing them their life-sustaining morning coffee, but besides those grunts of acknowledgement? Maybe not so much. So how do you upgrade from “the stressed-looking child who handed me my caffeine” to “yes! Hire them immediately! We’re so sad to have lost them”…? Here’s some advice you might find helpful.

1. Go the Distance

According to Karen Knipschild, former Career Advisor at UW-Madison, the best interns just do more. “I certainly met a number of students who started as interns and were offered full time career positions in the same company after they graduated. It’s because they worked hard and contributed their skills in a meaningful way, and sometimes it’s the little things that count,” she said.

But how exactly does one “go above and beyond?” John Mleziva, UW-Madison’s Internship Coordinator, has the answer. “Interns who are actively curious about how the entire organization works, ask for additional projects when finished with a task, and try to find ways to work with other employees within the company on projects that interest them are sure to catch the eye of any supervisor,” he said. “And be proactive about learning—ask to attend meetings, conferences, presentations, and lectures in order to gain a better sense of the organization and how it functions.”

2. Professionalism Counts

Don’t be a slob. “Dress and act professionally and follow the employer’s rules and time restrictions,” Knipschild said. “Show up on time and don’t play on your phone during work. You want to make an impression and that means approaching the opportunity with commitment, respect and a desire to learn about and contribute to the business.”

But though Oscar Wilde may think you can never be overdressed, you might be. “If you’re unsure about some aspect of the company culture, ask your supervisor,” Mleziva said. “It’s better to be proactive than unsure.” But having an internship isn’t just about leaving a lasting positive impression on your boss, it’s also about making the experience memorable for you. 

3. Make the Most of It

Emma Walesh, a graduate intern at UW-Madison’s L&S Career Services, had some advice on how to work an internship in your favor. “A willingness to be active within the position that you have and networking beyond the position, like asking questions of people who have specific knowledge that you want to gain, can be really beneficial,” she said. “Also, if you have the opportunity to have a mentor, seek one out.”

Though this may seem like a daunting task, finding a potential mentor may be easier than you’d think. “Take note of the variety of positions that are held by various staff within the organization,” Mleziva said. “If you identify a position of interest, inquire about setting up an informational interview with that staff person. Not only will you learn more about how the person got into their current position, you will have increased your profile within the company.”

Internships can be difficult or boring at times, but your overall experience depends on how much work you’re willing to put in. If you give the extra effort and go above and beyond the call of duty, engage with the people around you and milk that internship for everything it offers, you’re bound to leave an impression that won’t be easily forgotten.

Senior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison studying English with a creative writing emphasis. Lover of movie scores, thunderstorms, and superheroes. And dogs.

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