This summer, I was fortunate to have an amazing internship experience. I worked as a Project Coordinator, which is essentially a junior Project Manager. It was my first internship, so I didn’t know what to expect. I’ve known people who had internships and their main role was to wait on their manager’s every need, whether it was making copies or getting coffee. I’ve also known people who were treated as full-time employees and thrown right into (real/important) work. Mine was the latter.
I learned so much in my three months as an intern, and I’m glad I was able to gain real world experience. Yes, I learned about project management, but I also learned more than that. While I couldn’t possibly explain every single thing I learned this summer in one blog post, I want to highlight a few of the key takeaways!
You don’t need to know everything, nor are you expected to know everything
When I first stepped into the office, I was overwhelmed by what I didn’t know. I had a little bit of project management experience with a startup company, but nothing on the same level as what I would be doing in my internship.
Instead of acting like you know what you’re doing and seeing how far that gets you, know that it’s okay to ask someone for help. If you’re anything like me, you might be hesitant to reach out for help because you don’t want to bother others. Drop that mindset as soon as you can because you’re not bothering them.
Managers, mentors, and co-workers are great resources for you. In my experience, they are more than willing to help! It’s much better to admit you don’t know how to do something than to pretend you do, only to realize 15 hours into it, you don’t know what you’re doing and those 15 hours were wasted.
You’ll learn things that they don’t teach in school
I quickly realized that I wouldn’t be prepared for daily tasks in a corporate environment no matter how much schooling I had. I didn’t know basic things like how to schedule a meeting, use a conference bridge, or create or maintain a SharePoint site. They weren’t hard to learn by any means and they became part of my daily routine very quickly.
I also learned how to act in a business environment.Business etiquette is hard to learn in a classroom setting. Instead, I learned a lot this summer through paying attention to others and how they carry themselves. Each organization will have a different environment and culture, but realizing that the way to act in a business setting is different from in an academic setting is an important step.
It’s amazing how quickly you learn on the job. The first week felt very slow, but the pace picked up quickly, and before I knew it, the summer was over. Just a few short weeks into the summer, I was leading meetings and holding the role of Project Manager on several projects that were important to the company. I was a bit surprised at how much our managers trusted us with real projects, but I think I learned the most when I had actual work to do.
Branch out from your role/department
While it is important that you focus on your role and connecting with people in the department you’re in, you’re also in a great position to network with people across the organization. Build connections with your co-workers. Leaving a good impression is key. You never know when your connection with Sally in Accounting or Chris in Marketing will be useful down the road.
You’ve probably heard the saying, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” Whether you think it’s a good thing or a bad thing, it seems that having a connection to the company is more important than what is on your résumé or how you perform in your interview.
If you don’t fall in love with the role you’re in, see if you can shadow people in other roles. There are so many roles out there that I didn’t even know existed prior to being in a corporate environment. You never know what you might enjoy until you experience it. I was lucky enough to have made a good guess that I would like project management, but I also shadowed people in marketing, HR, and finance to get a glimpse into other potential career paths.
Make new friends
If the company you’re working for has other interns, try to get to know them. I was one of 23 interns this summer, and the internship program coordinators did a nice job of setting up intern activities such as lunches, a volunteer outing, and intern projects. This might be your first shot at meeting peers who are pursuing the same career path; take advantage of that.
It was nice knowing there were other interns who probably felt just as lost or confused as I did sometimes! I enjoyed getting to know the other interns I worked with this summer. I don’t have many friends in my classes at school, so it was nice to be around other students/interns who are doing similar coursework. I made several new friends this summer, and we’re still keeping in touch. Granted, it’s only been about a month since we’ve parted ways, but it’s a good start!
If you’re a sophomore or junior in college, I would highly recommend looking into getting an internship next summer! I’m so thankful for the experience I had.
Have you done an internship? What was one of your biggest takeaways?