Getting The Most Out of Your Internship
When I was getting ready to graduate from college last year, I probably would not have believed anyone who told me I would eventually be sitting in San Francisco working for a Community Development Financial Institution. After graduation I believed in my skill sets and I knew what I valued, but like most college students I was crippled by mounting pressures to get a job and start real life. It was hard to see beyond it.
In addition to the big challenge of finding a job, many recent grads feel pressured by the expectations of friends and family. More often than not, that pressure is ratcheted up a notch by looming student debt. It’s easy to see why so many new graduates often push the idea of finding a genuinely rewarding job aside. I was determined, personally, not to do that. I was determined to find a job that was fulfilling, even if I wasn’t sure at the time what that looked like.
With such a conviction firmly established, I leveraged any help I could find ranging from my alma mater to Google to identify the best fit. Eventually I landed an internship with Access Ventures. I was certainly excited to begin, but I didn’t really know what to expect. Faced with a new challenge, and not wanting to waste a great opportunity, I pushed myself to keep a few key goals in focus.
Here is how I made the most of my internship, and my advice for anyone looking to do the same
- Find Purpose
- Be Bold
- Show Up
- Chase Curiosities
- Keep Perspective
It almost goes without saying, I would not have enjoyed my internship so much if I didn’t choose the right one for me. After having had internships across different industries, I was still confused about where to go next.
Frustrated, I sat down one weekend in a coffee shop and started scribbling out a list of the things I valued and was excited by. This little exercise was extremely helpful in converting my thoughts on personal fulfillment into job hunting search terms. If I recall correctly, I ended up Googling something along the lines of “business for good”. It might have felt odd at the time, but it did lead me in the right direction.
Once you land an internship offer, the rest is really what you make out of it. If you start out as the designated coffee-maker, take the initiative to discover where you’ll jump in and contribute to the organization in a bigger way. There is always going to be an opportunity to leave behind a positive impact that you can be proud of. Whether it’s learning a new skill, proposing a new project, or just vouching for recycling bins at your office, you can always find avenues to leave your mark.
You only get to be an intern for so long, so you may as well take chances while you can. Your colleagues will appreciate it more than you think. While you might not always have the biggest seat at the table, your creative energy really matters. You bring a fresh perspective, so your ideas can be extremely valuable to your team’s work. Push yourself to pitch new ideas, even if they’re small.
Don’t just go to work, go represent the work that you do. Practice talking about what you do to other people. It can be more challenging than you think, but it is important to put yourself out there. Attending industry workshops, speaker series, and networking events lets you get a more holistic view of what’s happening in your community.
If networking with strangers is one of your biggest fears, it may help you to know that even “seasoned professionals” get nervous talking to strangers. You’re an intern, relax. People will expect you to ask questions. Don’t think of networking as just stiff, awkward, and sweaty handshakes. Think of it as a chance to get to learn something new, get inspired and meet new, interesting people.
Attending events like these gave me a sense of purpose in the work that I do. And the more I went to, the easier it got. You’ll also begin to understand the inner workings of your city, and gain a sense of belonging; like you’re all working together for a greater good.
While you might not always have the biggest seat at the table, your creative energy really matters.
Internships are short, but their impact on your self-growth can be lasting when you take time to reflect on your work. Reviewing work notes, journaling about takeaways, and drawing up new ideas kept me consistently focused on learning throughout my time with Access Ventures.
Oftentimes, I found it helpful to start or end a week by taking a few steps back to look at what I had been working on-and questioning it. Why am I doing this? Can this be accomplished in a better way? What’s causing a recurring issue? Taking time to think strategically helped me digest lessons learned and stoked my creativity. Try to keep a running list of curiosities and questions that come to you throughout the week, and use them to shape thoughtful conversations with your team members, or to influence the research you do.
Finally, maintaining perspective that your internship is for a limited time only will keep you hungry to make the most of the opportunity. And obviously, have fun with it. It’s important that you enjoy the people you work with and don’t sell yourself short regardless of what your role may be. Nothing is more boring than coming into a job where you simply punch in and punch out without engaging with the people around you.
If you’re in college and looking for your next internship, I wholeheartedly encourage you to go for the internship that speaks to your core values. You never know where it might take you!
If you are interested in interning at Access Ventures and helping to create a more inclusive and creative economy. Apply here.