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How to get the most out of an internship

Bob Rosner

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

DEAR WW: I’ve worked very hard to land a great internship. Can you give me some advice on how to get the most out of it?


DEAR SOLUTIONLESS: When volcanologists recently warned Indonesians of the impending eruption of Mount Merapi, nearby farmers focused on rituals and offerings to ward off the eruption. In one region, men gather “naked in groups late at night and run in circles around their villages.”

This volcano story points out the key to getting the most out of an internship — have a plan; do not run around in circles and hope for the best. Below are three dos and a don’t for getting the most out of an internship. For more, check out Lindsay Pollack’s book, “Getting From College to Career” (Collins, 2007).

  • DO accept work is different: School tends to be a solitary activity. There are group projects, but at the end of the day you are judged mostly on your own personal performance. Work is different; your performance often affects other people’s ability to get their job done. So when you miss a deadline, everyone can suffer, not just your grade. This is just one way that school can be different from the workplace. Do some prowling with new co-workers or former interns to find out more of the rules for being successful in your new workplace.
  • DO be proactive: Don’t just wait for great projects to fall into your lap. Go hunting for them. One simple way is to ask your boss, “What is a good thing for me to work on when you’re busy and I don’t have anything specific to do?” Also be on the lookout for interesting projects and assignments that no one else will touch, because they may give you more room to experiment, learn and grow. Just because you’re low person on the totem pole doesn’t mean that you have to get stuck with projects no one else wants
  • DO network with peers: Most interns focus on sucking up with their boss and other experienced workers. Don’t overlook networking possibilities with other interns. You can learn a lot from your fellow interns, and their network can be a great place to meet people. Also, the intern pool can be a great, safe place to develop your networking skills.
  • DON’T disappear. Many years ago, I served as an intern on Capital Hill in Washington, D.C., where I developed a reputation as an intern who was not scared to tackle a tough assignment. Pretty soon, I was delivering letters to the White House, writing copy for the Congressional Record and brainstorming about PR opportunities. Internships are definitely a situation where the more you put in, the more you’ll get out of the experience. Don’t allow yourself to play it safe by remaining invisible.

Use these tips and you won’t be running around in circles after college. You’ll leverage your internship to land a great job.


  • DO accept work is different.
  • DO be proactive.
  • DO network with peers.
  • DON’T disappear.

LIST OF THE WEEK (from Catalyst)
Women lag behind in leadership:

  • Women comprise over 50 percent of the workforce.
  • Women comprise only 15.6 percent of Fortune 500 corporate officers.
  • Women comprise only 14.6 percent of Fortune 500 board directors.

“You can’t turn back the clock, but you can wind it up again.” — Bonnie Prudden

Bob Rosner is a best selling author, speaker and internationally syndicated columnist. His best seller, “Gray Matters: The Workplace Survival Guide” (Wiley, 2005), is a business comic book that trades cynicism for solutions. Ask Bob a question.