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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Getting Ahead

The Muse's Ultimate Guide to Starting Your Internship

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Congrats on landing that internship! You nailed the interview, and now it's time to get some fresh office attire and maybe even a new haircut.

But while looking the part's important, there's more to kicking off an internship than just looking professional. You need to be prepared to learn as much as you can, ask the right questions, and get ready to work—hard. After all, dazzling your new boss can pave the way to a full-time offer. And for a recent grad, there's no better payoff.

Before you get your game face on, take a minute to master these key tips from professionals who've been there, done that, and made the best of their internships.

Keep an Open Mind

Art Turner has mentored a lot of interns. He also started his career as one. Art joined Enterprise Rent-a-Car nearly 20 years ago while he was he was still a student at Millersville University in central Pennsylvania. He was interning at a law firm, and he had plans to pursue a career as an attorney. But once he joined Enterprise, those plans quickly changed.

"When I started my internship, I didn't know I was going to be staying with Enterprise," he said. "I thought it would be good business experience, but I was still planning to go to law school. If I had known from the start that I wanted to stay with Enterprise, I could've gotten more out of the experience."

Is your internship purely for credits? Or is this a company you can see yourself joining once you've finished school? Are you doing the internship for valuable real-world experience? If you'd like to get a full-time offer at the end of the experience, know that going in, and build your plan around that goal.

Whatever your goals may be, make sure you have an end game—even if it’s simply to try something new. And keep an open mind. Art's internship convinced him to stay at Enterprise full-time, which proved to be the right decision for him.

Today, Art is a Vice President and GM in London, Ontario. His career at Enterprise took him from Pennsylvania to San Diego before landing in Canada. He's climbed the ladder rapidly, and he's glad he tried something different out before committing to law school. Turns out he's happy doing something he tried just for the "experience."

Ask a Lot of Questions

Whether you're angling for a full-time position or just trying to learn as much as you can, getting the most of out your internship means listening and learning at every opportunity. Sophie Russo had a software engineering internship at Enterprise Holdings—the company that operates the Enterprise Rent-A-Car, National Car Rental and Alamo Rent A Car brands—just two years ago, and she stressed the value of stepping outside the intern clique as early and often as possible.

"It's easy to hang out with the intern group and be insular," Sophie said. "But if you do, you'll miss out on the opportunity to learn critical things about the company, the industry, and what people in other departments do."

Sophie was a St. Louis-based recruiter before she started her internship. She had placed a handful of people there as part of her job, and was always telling others what a great place to work Enterprise is. Now a software engineer at Enterprise, she used her internship to learn as much as possible about every facet of the organization and its people.

"Make it a point to ask others what they like about the company and how they've progressed in their role," she said. "Try to get a real sense of what it's like to work there and in the industry, as well."

Remember: it pays to learn as much as you can about a company before accepting a full-time offer. Otherwise, you might end up taking a job at a place that isn't quite right for you.

Don't Settle for Busy Work

If Hollywood has convinced you that interns are little more than gophers who exist to fetch lattes and change the toner cartridge in the printer, it's time to adjust your expectations. In many companies, interns are given responsibilities similar to those of full-time employees. Internships like these are great opportunities to learn, but they also come with high expectations.

That's what Tiara Coleman found when she signed up for an internship at Enterprise in 2015. And she's has been with the company ever since. In fact, she had just been promoted from management assistant to assistant branch manager on the very day she spoke with The Muse.

"I found out pretty quickly that, even though I was an intern, I wasn't treated any differently than actual employees," she said. "I had actual responsibilities and goals that had a real impact on the business. I was marketing our services and trying to secure new customers. I even worked on our back-end systems a bit to make sure all of our accounts were to up to date. I was always working on something important, and it made me feel like I had real value to the company."

But not all companies give their interns this level of responsibility. If you find yourself relegated to coffee runs, Art recommends taking it up with your boss—tactfully.

"Go back to the job description for your internship, and ask your boss to give you the responsibilities in that document," he said. "Tell him or her that you're serious about learning as much as you can, and ask for the kinds of tasks you can learn from."

Up Your Game

To make the most of your internship, take the advice above to heart—but don't stop there. Make an effort to bring your best self to work every day, and remember that college and work are very different animals.

"School was school. Your first internship is work," Art said. "Elevate your level of commitment and professionalism. Treat this like your first job."

Making a killer impression and positioning yourself for a full-time role is key during your internship. Art recommended that interns have confidence in themselves and their abilities.

"I've worked with people who seem afraid of the autonomy interns receive at companies like Enterprise, and that doesn't serve them well," he added. "Don't shy away from taking on that big project."

Now that you've got insight from people who have crushed their internships, it's time for you to do the same. Because, hey—you've got this.