Tips on Making the Most of Your Internship

Published: 20 Jan 2015 By Pip Jamieson, Founder & CEO, The Dots

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I’m going to confess that I am a massive fan of internships. I actually began my career interning for MTV while at university, which was later followed by 6 glorious years with the company.

For an intern, it’s an amazing opportunity to get real world experience, build up a portfolio of work and make contacts that can last a lifetime. Most importantly, it’s a great way to get your foot in the door to take that all-important leap from learning to earning.

For employers, it’s not only a wonderful chance to give back to the industry, and help shape the seniors of tomorrow; it’s also a chance to learn. Don’t underestimate what juniors can bring to the table. Their minds are fertile with new ideas and skills; you’ll be surprised how quickly they can teach an old dog new tricks… and, hey, who doesn’t want to try before you buy?

So, if you’re thinking of becoming an intern, below are some tips to help you along the way.

Getting your foot in the door:

The direct approach.

Research companies in your industry (shameless plug, but we have an amazing list on The Dots), create a list of companies that you’d like to work with and email them directly. Here are a few pointers to make sure you stand out from the crowd:

Make it personal – before you send an email to ‘Dear Sir/Madam’ call the company and get the name of the person responsible for hiring interns.

Be passionate – tell them why you want to work in this sector, what you love about their company and what skills you can bring to the role.

Sell your skills – attach your CV and, if you’re a creative, provide a link to your online portfolio.

The introductions approach

Ask your lecturers, friends or contacts if they know anyone who works at the company you are interested in. This is where networks like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and The Dots come in handy, as six degrees of separation are often more like one. You’re more likely to get through to the right person if there’s some form of connection.

The university approach

If you’re at university, ask if they have an internship program. If they don’t, lobby for one.

Be sure to know your rights - Unless you on a specific work placement linked to educational studies, volunteering for a charity or voluntary organization or are simply shadowing (observational non-performing only), you are legally entitled to be paid to National Minimum Wage while interning. You can find out more at HMRC (https://www.gov.uk/employment-rights-for-interns).

During the internship

Know what you want to do and be passionate. This will help your employer tailor the internship so that you get the most out of the role. Remember, enthusiasm is highly contagious.

Build key relationships. Identify which person in the office you aspire to be like in five years and buddy up to them. When I was interning for MTV, I was placed in an uninspiring department. I quickly got chatting to someone in my dream department, and asked if I could help with anything outside of office hours. I then worked my socks off from nine to five in the current role and stayed late to work on the fun stuff. The contacts I made while working on the fun stuff are still in my life today, 10 years on.

Make yourself indispensable. Take on every task with open arms and ask for more if you have downtime. In the end they may just offer you a full-time gig.

Be a sponge. You’re there to learn, so lap it up. There’s nothing worse than an intern who thinks they know it all. If you do, then don’t take an internship, start your own company.

Be lovely to everyone, even if they’re an idiot. Unfortunately not everyone out there is nice, but don’t make enemies, they can last a lifetime.

Be professional. Be respectful to everyone, ask permission from your manager to go on lunch or to leave the office and, most importantly, don’t chat away on your phone or jump on Facebook… Even if it’s what your boss does!

Take it on the chin and get on with it. You’re not going to love all of the tasks that are given to you. Unfortunately, that’s the reality of work, but be enthusiastic about everything, work hard and always wear a smile. The more you jump to every task, the more you’ll get to work on the fun stuff.

Be part of the conversation. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, contribute and sell your work. Talent only takes you so far, being passionate and a real contributor will take you the whole nine yards. There’s always a fine line between passion and arrogance, so learn to get a feel for how people react to your suggestions and adjust accordingly. Make the most out of it.

Make the most out of it!

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