10 tips for tackling your internship: Advice from a Former Intern Turned Intern Coordinator

Thursday, April 06, 2017
Nicole Campbell Visual Art Nshss 659X495

Kolby Keo
UC Irvine 2015
NSHSS Fellows Program Vice President of Special Events

Interns. I’ve seen the good, the bad, the mediocre, and those who were hired full-time, on the spot, by internship’s end. Here are 10 tips to help you master your intern experience:

1. Do your research. Arrive prepared

The most successful interns start preparing well before their first day. Study up not only on your role, but your boss’ and supervisors’ roles. Figure out the processes and projects you will be contributing to. Understand how your work will fit into the greater mission and success of the organization. Once arrived, ask lots of questions. You don’t need to know everything that is going on right away, but the faster you learn the ins and outs of the job, the better off you'll be.

2. Do not scoff at seemingly trivial tasks

Administrative and operational assignments are part of everyone’s job description. Handle with grace and an eager attitude.

3. Observe and mirror organizational culture

What’s the preferred form of communication? How do coworkers interact amongst themselves? How do staff interact with management? Different organizations have different expectations regarding employee behavior. Observe, learn, and conform to the dress standards, workplace dynamics, and social graces unique to your organization. Rule of thumb: Dress, speak, write, and behave like a professional. Shake hands, make eye contact, smile, and be friendly and confident. Ask your intern coordinator about dress policy before starting your first day.

4. Manage your time

Most company internships typically span only a few months, so there’s no time to waste! Meet deadlines. Be transparent. Talk to your manager about unreasonable and unrealistic timelines. Make sure to devote time to priority projects. Don’t allow yourself to be distracted by personal devices and social media.

5. Anticipate the needs of your boss

No job is too small if it saves your supervisor time. When your boss is swamped with work, take over routine tasks he or she normally handles. Help define problems and brainstorm solutions. The more you know how to help your boss, the more valuable you’ll become.

 6. Get the job done right...and well

Listen carefully when given instructions for an assignment, and be sure to ask for clarification if you need it. Ask questions up front; then, use your smarts and common sense to research and troubleshoot on your own. Place value on quality over quantity. Producing excellent work as an intern is a surefire way to establish your value to a supervisor, and in return, their support for you down the road.

7. Go above and beyond

By internship’s end, a job offer or strong letter of recommendation should be the goal. You want to stand out from the class. Be proactive. Ask for more responsibility. Identify a big project that you’re confident you can handle, and then pour yourself into it to demonstrate what you can do. First impressions are very important, but maintaining a good impression throughout your internship is more important. Keep up the high energy throughout and finish strong.

8. Be your own advocate

No one else will do it for you. Communicate your personal goals for the internship to your supervisor, before, during, and after. Ask for advice, and request feedback. Ask your bosses to sit down for coffee. Always be mindful of any person’s time (but especially a supervisor’s), and be sure to give enough notice, so they can schedule you into their calendar.

9. Make yourself memorable

Become part of the team. Be respectful of input from other team members and practice the art of compromising. Get to know the staff outside of your circle of interns and immediate supervisor. Be easy to work with; accept assignments without complaint. To leave a lasting impression, remember that everyone in the office needs to think you are a reliable job candidate.

10. Ask not what your boss can do for you, ask what you can do for your boss

It’s not about you. It’s about the organization, the organization’s mission, and the goals that must be achieved in order to fulfill that mission. Your boss is responsible to achieve the goals of the organization; and, you are responsible to your boss. Therefore, do everything you can to support your supervisor’s work. Have pride in your tasks, take extra initiative, think outside the box, and leave a lasting impression. When pleased by your work and contributions, a good boss will support and invest in your personal development and advancement, be your staunchest ally and advocate, and help you along to your next opportunity.


Kolby serves as a legislative aide for U.S. Representative Alan Lowenthal and the Managing Director of Programs for the global nonprofit Young Professionals in Foreign Policy. Kolby is Vice President of Special Events for the NSHSS Fellows Program. For questions or more tips you can reach him at kolby.keo@gmail.com.