How to Squeeze More Value Out of Your Internship

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Rising upperclassmen and recent grads gather

By Maya Pickar

As a young adult coming up in the world, you’ve probably been told over and over that you need an internship or need to start thinking about your career. As a college senior myself, I felt the fear of snagging the “right” opportunity loom over my head like a heavy storm cloud. To be honest, I didn’t understand why it mattered so much until I finally started my first internship. At the end of a busy and bustling summer of internship experience and career networking, I’m glad I ran out and faced the rain instead of hiding inside.

The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter by Meg Jay was the catalyst for me to begin thinking about my own career journey. The book underscores that making the most of your time earlier will have long-term, positive effects in your life. I realized that rather than playing catch up later, I could feel empowered by taking matters into my own hands now. And you can too. Along the way to beginning my own journey, I’ve gathered insightful, directional tips to help others execute and take advantage of the internship process as well. My goal is to convey that these experiences will help you a) understand what you want, and b) learn how to get it.

However, it’s not just about finding an internship, it’s about making the most of those early career opportunities to stand out and get your foot in the door. While I’m still maneuvering my way in, I’ve learned some important skills that might help others as they navigate the start of their career.

Expand Your Network

There are so many opportunities to grow your network at an internship, you just need to know how and where to look.

Be sure to attend any formal events your company sets up to meet other young professionals, because you never know what opportunities it might spark. A random conversation can turn into your next job interview, referral or at minimum, a way to learn something new. Establish and maintain a strong relationship with your team. Connecting with those that witness your hard work, acquired skills and technical knowledge on a regular basis can help you succeed in the future. (Note: remember to always connect with team members and peers on LinkedIn to help keep track of your network so when the time comes to call on someone, you can easily reach out.)

Learn and Explore Your Specialization

This summer I attended Deutsch NY’s week-long Summer C.A.M.P (Creative, Advertising, and Media Program) where I learned about the creative advertising agency life. By far one of the greatest benefits of this program was exploring different potential career paths (with little to no pre-existing experience).

Various teams, such as the Account Management, Digital Strategy, Media, and Production teams, walked us through their typical work day, giving us greater insights on what their roles entail. I gained wisdom from high level executives, witnessed how the creative work gets made from start to finish, and listened to how others got their careers started. At the end, I even got to show off my newly acquired knowledge by working with fellow participants to brainstorm, and pitch our very own ad campaign.

I was amazed at how much I was able to learn about advertising in just one week. Career programs like these provide an invaluable experience that helps young professionals get their foot in the door. You have the highly unique opportunity to get a taste of what it’s like to work in a specific industry, career path or job position (without the commitment)! The beauty is that you learn what you like or don’t like in order to understand what makes sense for you.

Understand Your Values

Starting off with an internship or professional exploratory program, whether one week or six months, will help you get a real grasp of what your workplace and career values are. You’ll find yourself answering questions such as: What type of environment/workplace structure do I work best in? How much do I want to be working with others on a regular basis? 

Something I didn’t realize before? Understanding your personal values early on can help you find roles that feel fulfilling and enjoyable. So, while working at an internship or career program, pay attention to the tasks that light up your passions, what you’re less comfortable with and why. By thinking critically about that makes sense for you will go a long way as you evaluate your next career steps.

Practice Advocating for Yourself

Learning how to find your footing in a professional atmosphere can be super intimidating! Professional programs and internships can provide a safe environment for you to learn how to advocate for yourself and receive constructive feedback from mentors (so you’re ahead of the game once you join the workforce). While at an internship, where you interact with teammates and supervisors, you will learn how to clearly communicate your ideas, refine your presentation skills, and ultimately tailor each project and experience to show future employers what your skills and strengths are.

So yes, choosing a path can be daunting. However, taking the steps to figure out what you want and learning meaningful skills will help you on the journey ahead. Be bold, be fearless and take control now.

About the Author

Maya Pickar is a Digital and Content Marketing Professional currently working as an Intern for Beauty By Imagination. After graduating from The University of Colorado Boulder in May 2023, she hopes to land her first full time role doing Content Strategy.     

 

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