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You applied. You interviewed. You’re hired. Congratulations!
No matter what kind of job or internship you’ve secured, there are many opportunities to hone your skills and develop your interests while there. This is true even if it’s not directly related to your intended career path! In a Student Health 101 survey, 97 percent of respondents indicated that they could learn valuable workplace skills in any job or internship, no matter its focus.
Keep an Open Mind
Stephanie Ford, director of arts and sciences career services at The Ohio State University in Columbus, says, “An internship outside your career field has value. You’ll have experiences that allow you to apply what you’re learning in the classroom and more generalized experiences that are going to be valuable, too.”
Diana C., a sophomore at the University of Cincinnati in Ohio, studies architecture. She took an internship at a retail store specializing in women’s apparel and home décor because joining the visual display team would offer related experience.
“I signed up for [the internship] because I knew it would relate to craftsmanship, which would help me,” says Diana. For example, she used her fine arts skills to fashion a variety of paper-based displays. “In architecture, you have to build models. Craftsmanship is really important,” she explains.
Allison Cohn, a recruiting manager at General Mills, encourages students to focus on universal skills. “Think about [what] can transfer into the career or company that [you’re] really interested in,” she says.
Ford agrees. She says that early work and internship experiences can help you feel that you have the skills potential employers are looking for. “Figure out what job experiences are going to help [you] build those qualifications,” she says.
New jobs and internships present opportunities to learn technical skills, industry jargon, day-to-day operations, business acumen, and professional etiquette. They can also allow you to develop talents you may not have known you have.
As Dean M., a student at University of Ontario Institute of Technology in Canada, says, “I’ve learned what I can do with my skill set and that I can do things that I didn’t know I could.”
Establishing rapport with supervisors and coworkers is essential in any position.
“You have to be willing, in a nonaggressive and nonthreatening way, to have a conversation about what it is you are expecting and what your supervisors are expecting,” says Trudy Steinfeld, assistant vice president and executive director at the Wasserman Center for Career Development at New York University in New York City. “Those conversations happen in a workplace all the time,” she advises.
Learning to have productive, professional dialogue can be good practice for developing relationships and working on collaborative projects in future positions. The ability to communicate effectively with supervisors, coworkers, and customers or clients will help you advance in any field. These skills are also essential when participating in extracurricular activities and group work in classes.
Leadership and Teamwork Skills
These days, employers not only look for candidates with content knowledge or technical expertise, but also leadership and teamwork skills. Take advantage of any opportunities to build these in your current job or internship.
For example, volunteer to lead a working group for a large project or even to organize a company party. These will show that you take initiative and allow you to practice things like:
- Active listening
- Communicating with higher-ups
Plus, these are powerful skills to include on your résumé.
If you find yourself feeling a bit bored, “step up to the plate,” says Lauren Berger, founder of Intern Queen, an internship Web site. Ask your supervisor if he or she needs any help, or if another worker could use your assistance.
Taking on special projects is also a way to show that you’re willing to go above and beyond what’s expected, a trait that’s often highly valued by employers. Speak with your supervisor if you’re interested in something that isn’t officially part of your job description but that you think you’d enjoy or learn from (or both).
Don’t stay cloistered behind a counter, in your cubicle, or with your lab equipment. Start or join conversations with your colleagues in the break room, at the copy machine, and through the halls, advises Berger, and network your heart out. “It’s not just a matter of collecting business cards and names, but actually developing relationships with these people,” she says.
You can ask to be introduced to senior leaders through informational interviews, review company materials, and sit in on meetings in different departments. “Talk to anyone who’s fairly senior and you’ll find out that they most likely didn’t get their job because they saw it advertised,” says Steinfeld. “They got the job because of [someone in a] network of contacts [who] made an introduction.”
Also consider attending conferences and Webinars, and reading trade publications; they’re often offered at discounted rates for students.
Learn About Yourself
All work experiences give you a chance to learn about yourself. While in any position, think about what you like about the tasks and responsibilities, what you dislike, and what type of activities you find rewarding. This can help you chart your career course.
“Keep your mind open regardless of what the job is,” says Rohan K., a sophomore at Ohio University in Athens. He took an internship designing materials for an online women’s magazine, and credits the experience with increasing his versatility by forcing him to work outside his artistic comfort zone.
In addition to considering what you most enjoy and excel at, think about areas that you find challenging and where you can expand your knowledge or perspective.
“My internships took me from being a girl who only cared about her social life to someone who is constantly thinking about her future,” says Berger. “[They] just sparked something within me that no other experiences were able to do; they got me thinking about [her] future,” explains the entrepreneur, who completed 15 internships during her undergraduate career.
- Be open to positions of many different types.
- Focus on developing universally applicable skills.
- Step outside your comfort zone. Volunteer for projects where you’ll learn something new.
- Take initiative. Demonstrate that you’re a leader.
- Network with colleagues and people from various company departments.
- Take advantage of conferences, lectures, and other learning opportunities.
- Request informational interviews with the “higher-ups.”
Get help or find out more
University of California, Berkeley, Job & Internship Guide 12–13, Internships
Purdue University, Center for Career Opportunities, Steps to Successfully Finding an Internship or Job