employee handbook

Making the Most of Your Internship Experience

How can you make the most of your internship experience?

Agree on a work plan. Before you start your first day or work, you should know what you’ll be doing. Maybe not exactly, but you should have a good idea. Talk with your supervisor in advance about the types of things you want to experience, what the site has to offer, and the projects they want you to work on. Get it in writing and make sure both you and your supervisor understand and agree with it. A learning contract, as it’s sometimes called, makes things a little more formal and gives you something to go back to if you get stuck making copies every day. “Remember those projects we talked about me working on? Could I work on one of those today?”

Get out of your comfort zone. It can be tempting to just use your existing skills in your internship or to answer the phone and file paperwork all day in your internship. After all, you’re still getting course credit and getting the same thing out of it, right? Wrong! Doing new things, even things that you may be uncomfortable with at first, is a great way to learn new skills. For example, your internship may offer groups or special programs that require public speaking. After attending a few, volunteer to speak at a meeting or to run a group yourself. Your organization will appreciate your initiative and you will likely learn something in the process.

Journal or do some reflective writing. If you have a course that goes along with your internship, this will hopefully be built in. If not, I strongly encourage you to do it yourself. You will be amazed at how your thoughts and feelings change over the course of just a few weeks and months. Jotting down your thoughts during your first few days and then reading them during your last weeks at your placement will show you just how far you’ve come. Sometimes the best lessons come from experience and keeping a record of those experiences is important.

Establish a good working relationship with your supervisor and coworkers. For some students, the internship is their first real work experience. Regardless of your experience level, your internship is a great place to start learning professional behavior and workplace relationships. You don’t have to be best friends with your supervisor or coworkers. You may not want to go to their houses or have dinners with them. But being able to communicate and interact in a professional manner is important. Make an effort to listen, ask questions, and get to know them. You may want a letter of recommendation when you leave and you may work with them in the future in another capacity.

Get support. Completing an internship can be a stressful experience. Especially if you’re completing it while finishing your coursework, working a part-time job, or fulfilling other responsibilities at the same time. Be sure to take some time for yourself once in a while and to get support from friends, family, and other interns. If you’re at a large organization with multiple interns, organize a social gathering or happy hour. It’s a great stress-reliever and will likely help you work together more efficiently. If you have a course that goes along with your internship, talk with your classmates and/or instructor. You’re not alone in feeling overwhelmed!

 Additional Resources:

10 Ways to Add Value to an Internship or Job – Huffington Post

The 10 Commandments of Being an Intern – Huffington Post

7 Tips for Successful Internships – Huffington Post


About Elissa Mitchell

Elissa Thomann Mitchell has a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the University of Evansville, two Masters degrees (in Human and Community Development & Social Work) and a PhD in Human Development and Family Studies from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She is currently an Assistant Professor at the University of Illinois Springfield in the Department of Human Services. Dr. Mitchell’s research focuses on the resilience of at-risk youth, and she is particularly interested in social support and its contributions to wellbeing.  In addition, she is interested in the personal and professional development of students, particularly in relation to internship and practicum experiences. She served as the TA/Instructor for the internship course at UIUC for three years, helping nearly sixty students secure and successfully complete their internships.

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