If you are presented with the opportunity to complete an internship, take it. GPA and extra-curricular involvement is vital to prepare for a career, however nothing quite tops hands-on experience. Once you pursue this opportunity, it’s up to you to make the most out of it. From being a summer intern in D.C. at a non-profit organization, I learned more than I could imagine – however, these are ten lessons that helped me the most.

1) Lose the intern mentality

It is easy to hold yourself back when you think of yourself as “only an intern.” Be confident in your work knowing that you bring value to the organization. You were chosen over all other applicants, so prove that they made the right choice.

2) If you want something, ask for it

No one is going to hold your hand or guide your every step. If you want new opportunity, don’t be afraid to pitch an idea to your supervisor. The worst that you can be told is no. Even if this is the case, you showed confidence and initiative – both of which reflect positively. You won’t know if you don’t ask.

3) Show initiative beginning on the first day

One of my biggest regrets as an intern is waiting to seek out opportunity. I was most successful when I challenged myself and completed a plethora of new projects. Beginning on the first day, get a feel for what opportunities there are aside from your daily tasks.

4) Dress for the part

Looks aren’t everything, but they do count for something. If you’re unsure of the dress code, don’t be afraid to ask. However, it’s always better to be overdressed rather than underdressed. Create your wardrobe based on how you want to be seen. Aim for professionalism but don’t be afraid to show your own personal style as well.

5) Finding a mentor in the workplace is vital

If you admire someone in your workplace and aspire to be in their shoes someday, ask them to grab coffee or lunch sometime. Treat this as an opportunity to receive useful career advice and insight. Create a list of questions you’d like to ask them and they will most likely be happy to answer. Remember that they have been in your shoes once as well. Also ask for tips and critiques on your work when they are not too busy. Something to keep in mind as an intern is to always be respectful of others’ time – people are busy and have full schedules!

6) Show up early and leave late

There were many days during my internship that I was the first to arrive and the last to leave. Trust me – this does not go unnoticed. When others witness you working diligently, you will gain respect and credibility. You will not just be “the intern.” They will know that you bring something to the team and are truly dedicated.

7) Leave your comfort zone

Growth begins at the end of your comfort zone. Do not choose comfort over new opportunity. Feeling uncomfortable is actually a good thing in the work place and where I’ve grown the most in my career. Learn to take risks and grab new opportunity where you can.

8) Knowledge is power

The absolute best way to impress people in the workplace is with knowledge. Don’t allow people to look down on you because of your age. Instead, use it to your advantage. Impress others by contributing to challenging conversations. This is not to say that power should be you end goal. However, more knowledge opens the door for more work opportunities and assignments.

9)  Don’t be afraid to ask questions

Rid the feeling of being a bother when asking questions. Your supervisor should be happy to answer questions – you are there to learn and gain experience! It is always better to ask than to wonder. Keeping a question to yourself may cause you to perform a task wrong or not complete an assignment to the ability in which it is expected.

10) Don’t settle into a routine

When you settle into a routine, the work day grows to be boring. See each coming day as a chance for new opportunity and challenges. If you get too comfortable, this may cause your work performance to dwindle. Begin each morning with a fresh attitude and a load of confidence and end each day with satisfaction knowing you did your best.

While internships aren’t usually required in school, this is what will set you apart from the herd. If you want to achieve your goals, you have to start from the bottom and move your way up. Even if your internship is unpaid, there will be valuable lessons to take away that are worth much more than money. Take on new opportunities with open arms and remember that good things come to those that work.

Jennifer D.
Jennifer Duplessie is a senior at Texas A&M University pursuing a Bachelor of Science degree in Political Science. After graduation, she hopes to pursue a career in political communications incorporating her passion for writing and photography.

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