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5 Things You Need to Do Before Completing Your Internship

April 20th, 2012 · 17 Comments


Andrianes Pinantoan


I remember speaking to a friend of mine who just completed his first internship. “Don’t bother” was the advice he gave me. He said he just spent three months getting people coffee and delivering documents. His experience, of course, is far from unique. Most interns are happy to do that. 

Fortunately, I decided to ignore his advice and went ahead with my internship. Mine was a complete opposite experience. In fact, I wouldn’t be where I am if it weren’t for that first internship I did.

So what did I do differently? 

You see, most people, my friend included, go into an internship with no end in mind. They assume it’s like finding love: you stumble around in the dark and hope you find the one. But that’s not what most successful interns do. These people have a clear set of goals they want achieve before they complete an internship. 

And every day they go to work, they work to achieve that list. Here are 5 most common goals successful interns pursue:  

1. Try Everything You Want To Try

More than once I’ve met people who landed their so called “dream job” but quickly discovered that they hated it. For example, I know of a guy who wanted to be a lifeguard, but later told me that the job isn’t what TV portrays it to be. In reality, you just sit around most of the day. 

If you don’t want to spend your precious time trying to land jobs you actually hate, internships are great opportunities for you to test the waters. But here’s the key: make sure you get to try everything you want to experience. 

Most interns stuck with one particular monotonous job and never got to experience what a real employee in that industry does – and therefore left with an incomplete view of what the role entails. 

For example, a friend of mine interned as a graphic designer. All he did during his internship was fiddle with Illustrator. He loved it. But when he started his first full-time job as a graphic designer, he quickly found out that 50% of his time was spent on creating reports and presentations for the executives. 

2. Learn a New Skill

This is the whole point of interning yet few interns actually learn a new skill during an internship. Instead, what most of them want out of the free labour is to be able to put that experience in their resume. They couldn’t have wasted a better opportunity! 

It’s true that during regular business hours – especially during peak season – most interns will have to spend their time doing low-level jobs. So what I like to do is to come in early, or leave later, just to have the opportunity to play around with the company’s advance tools or – and this works more than most interns assume – get a senior to mentor you. 

Everyone’s happy to help if you’re sincere. Most skills require just 30 minutes of lecture anyway and the rest comes from practice, which of course, you can do alone. 

3. Build Your Network

You probably already know that 60% to 80% of all jobs are filled before they were listed. How do you make sure you’re a candidate for one these openings? Networking! 

Internships are not a time for you to shy away. There will never be a better excuse to get to know industry veterans than when you’re working with them! Go out of your way to meet people in different departments. Don’t bring your own lunch – go out and hang out with them. 

4. Ask for a Testimonial

If it turns out that you decided to leave the company for another opportunity, then make sure you first get a reference. This is quite straightforward: ask your boss if it’s OK for a prospective employer of yours to contact him/her. 

But here’s one thing that many interns miss: a testimonial. Now, most people have a hard time giving testimonials so what smart interns do is write one about themselves and ask if their bosses agree with it. If he agrees with what you wrote, simply ask him if it is OK for you to use it as his words. 

Once you get the testimonial, you can use it on your resume, your website and even your cover letter. Trust me when I say that you’ll get a lot more replies when you have a testimonial. 

5. Let your employer know you appreciate the opportunity

This is a technique I learned from a mentor of mine. 

Remember that there’s a lot more your employer can help you with than just an internship. He can introduce you to a colleague who has an opening. He might hire you again 2 years down the road. He might even be a potential client in the future. 

So before you leave, show your gratitude for the opportunity given to you. I like to take my boss to lunch and leave a handwritten thank you note on my last day in an internship. How effective is this? 

I have had the chance to intern four times so far, two of them offered me a full-time job and one became a client six months later. Need I say more? 

 A resident of Sydney, Australia, Andrianes Pinantoan graduated with a masters degree in marketing from the University of Western Sydney. He is currently the editor of the Open Colleges blog ( When not working, he can be found reading psychology.

Tags: Advice from a Pro · Guest Post · Intern

17 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Kiné Camara // Apr 22, 2012 at 12:36 pm

    Thanks for your comments Andrianes. I have found the same to be true in my internship experiences – I think the greatest challenge is just finding how you can contribute more to your company. When I interned last quarter, I also had a full time load at school and I was active in other clubs and projects. Finding the time to make an impact at the office was a great challenge, but I do feel that I left a legacy. I was lucky to work with a few people who held different positions and could each give me different work each week. It was a great experience!

  • 2 Andrianes // Apr 23, 2012 at 10:42 pm

    Hi Kine! Great to hear about your experience!

  • 3 Eric Holden - Southeast Missouri State // Apr 30, 2012 at 5:26 pm

    I think this was extremely beneficial to me because I will be doing an internship this coming summer. The points about networking are spot on. Many times in business it is not what you know, but it is who you know. Someone from one of my classes even added to that statement earlier today and said “but your contacts already know what it is you know so when they recommend you, they are basically saying that they feel you are qualified for the job.” In general, just take every opportunity you have to network.

  • 4 Lauren // May 2, 2012 at 4:17 pm

    I think this post is very beneficial to anyone interested in an internship. An internship is all that you make it. You get out what you put in. I learned so much from my internship experience becuase I was really involved, I experimented with new tools and ideas and I learned from that. Don’t waste it, explore all you can.

  • 5 Tom // May 3, 2012 at 7:15 am

    As someone with an internship starting in a couple of weeks I was thankful to have read this. The point about “learning a new skill” really made me consider the importance what I’m about to start doing. Honestly, arriving early and leaving late sounds like a lot of work, but through this one would be able to see the passion for the job that you have. I am excited to start interning, and hope that I am able to get the most out of my internship.

  • 6 Cameron // May 3, 2012 at 9:35 am

    As a currently active intern with a not-for-profit organization, I fully agree with the five things that you have described within this posting.
    An internship is definitely what you make it, as Lauren stated, but paying close attention towards these five concepts only serves to enrich the experience that you have with the organization that you are interning with.
    In regard to trying everything that you want to try, I also believe that you must first demonstrate competence in the mundane tasks early into your internship, only to be rewarded with more responsibility and trust in larger tasks later in the intern position.
    One major problem that I believe most employers are faced with when taking on an intern, is having to deal with the attitude of the intern and their self-belief that they are above the work or position that they are in. I believe that if the intern goes into the position ready to display competence and a willingness to engage in or complete every task given, coupled with showing your employer appreciation, all the finer details that make for an excellent intern experience will quickly follow suit.
    Overall, I fully believe that applying all of these concepts you have described, as well as the ones that I touched on, led me to an excellent experience as an intern, which resulted in me now having a large network of people that not only can rely on me, but also, I on them.

  • 7 John Kraft Southeast Missouri State University // May 3, 2012 at 11:26 am

    This post was very beneficial to me because I will be completing an internship and have several job opportunities after graduating college. The post suggested to attain references while completing your internship. I think this is great advice because you can never have too many references to use while searching for a job that suits you the best. Networking is another great piece of advice because many people get hired because they have a connection within a company. Obviously during your internship you should always learn all that you can, if this means writing and taking notes on the job, do so. I enjoyed reading this post and hope I accomplish all that I can while doing my internship.

  • 8 Matt Brown- Southeast Missouri State // May 4, 2012 at 11:14 am

    As someone who will be starting an internship this summer, the two pieces of advice I am interested in the most are “learn a new skill” and “build your network”. I would love to be able to expand my strengths and develop contacts and references that will aid me in the job search. If I can get reference letters and expand my portfolio I will consider the internship a success.

  • 9 Katie Levy // May 6, 2012 at 3:54 pm

    I thought number four was so interesting. I’ve never been told, or even thought, to get a testimonial from my employer. It makes perfect sense to put on in a resume, cover letter, and/or a website because it ensures a good reference and makes the applicant more desirable to an employer.
    Thanks for the tips!

  • 10 Katie Levy-Southeast Missouri State University // May 6, 2012 at 3:56 pm

    I thought number four was so interesting. I’ve never been told, or even thought, to get a testimonial from my employer. It makes perfect sense to put on in a resume, cover letter, and/or a website because it ensures a good reference and makes the applicant more desirable to an employer.
    Thanks for the tips!

  • 11 Liz Rourke // May 7, 2012 at 10:02 am

    I found this post to be very insightful and helpful. I will be completing my internship this summer and truly appreciate the words of wisdom from someone who has been there before. I believe these suggestions are capable of turning my internship into a more positive and memorable experience, then it would have been otherwise. Although I appreciated all of the points, I really found number 5 to be something that is extremely important to remember. Maintaining a strong relationship with the employer even after the internship is over is a key point to remember. Remembering to thank them for their time and the overall experience, will allow you to remain in contact with them, and add them to your contact list.

    Liz Rourke
    Southeast Missouri State University

  • 12 Lucas Robins // May 7, 2012 at 11:28 am

    Thank you for the tips. Most of these will be very helpful in the coming months, as I will be completing internships. I was encouraged by my most recent internship employer to provide a list of goals that I wished to accomplish and things that I wished to gain experience in. She has specific projects that I will be working on that will fulfill these goals. One of the benefits with working with a local business.

    Lucas Robins
    Southeast Missouri State University

  • 13 DC Patrick // May 7, 2012 at 12:10 pm

    I am a senior getting ready to start my internship and I have been hearing horror stories about internships and all they do is sharpen pencils and get coffee. I would not continue my internship if it was not benefiting me in any way. Now that I have read your post I am more confident that I will not have the same experience. I will leave my internship with some type of benefit, one way or the other. I am currently in the “Try Everything You Want To Try” stage of my internship hunt.

  • 14 Jeff O'Neill- Southeast Missouri State University // May 7, 2012 at 12:47 pm

    I found this post to be very helpful and beneficial to me. I am working towards doing an internship soon and several of the points were very helpful especially knowing that they are coming from someone who has completed internships. The point about gaining references while completing your internship is great advice because we all know that you can never have enough people in your corner. The tip about using a testimonial was helpful because I have never thought of doing that and will be using that technique in the future when I am trying to find a job after graduation.

  • 15 Amia Warren - Southeast Missouri State University // May 7, 2012 at 1:50 pm

    Thank you for your helpful tips. I recently completed an internship and was asked by the director to list the top 5 things that I would like to learn prior to completing the internship. I found this method to be very useful. Many people complete internships with the intentions of only applying skills that they already have. I believe it is important to acquire new skills and seek new opportunities. It will definitely help in new phases of life.

  • 16 Nick Garlik-Southeast Missouri State // May 7, 2012 at 3:19 pm

    Thanks for you for the tips. I am currently taking my internship right now. I was asked by my internship manager what I need to improve on. So i suggested creating my own SWOT analysis and they found this very helpful to get the most out of my internship. I also used your advice by giving them a list of goals that i would like to complete. I am very excited about taking my internship and after reading your advice it changed my outlook on what i need to do to get the most out of my internship.

    Nick Garlik

  • 17 Kristen // May 30, 2012 at 7:47 pm

    As a student who recently obtained an internship for the summer and next year, I thought this post was very helpful. My favorite tip is number two “learn a new skill.” I am currently working with a company that is planning to launch a new campaign for children this September. Every meeting that I have been to so far has been a learning experience and I am learning every day. I am thankful that I am able to work with this company and be able to put on my resume that I helped launch a new organization while learning new skills. This post was not only helpful but inspiring because at a internship its about self-motivation and learning new skills that you can carry on in the future.

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