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Making the Most of Your Internship: Tips for College Students

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You spent hours filling out applications, lining up references, opining and holding forth in essays, and polishing your résumé to a gleaming shine. Now it looks like all that hard work has paid off: you just got the news that you landed that fiercely-sought-after summer internship. You’ve gotten your foot in the door at one of the top organizations in your field of study. Now what?

Your first order of business is patting yourself on the back. College internships are more competitive than ever these days, and if you ended up with a top spot at a firm you’re really interested in, congratulations are definitely in order. Heave a sigh of relief, call up your party buddies, and give yourself a night off to celebrate.

It’s Never Too Soon to Start Planning

After you’ve crawled out of bed and shaken off the cobwebs the next morning (or should that be afternoon?), you’ve got some serious thinking to do. Internships are a great way for college students without a whole lot under the “Experience” heading on their résumés to make a splash in the business world.

But internships aren’t all fun and games – just like the college experience itself, what you’ll get out of your internship is exactly what you put into it. As soon as you get the good news that you’ve won an internship, it’s time to start putting some thought into exactly what it is you’re looking to take away from the experience. Here are some ideas to help you get started.

* Sketch out what you want to learn. Make a list of the skills and processes you want to explore during your internship. Avoid generic or overly-broad goals – try to get as specific as possible. Once your position gets underway, keep careful track of your day-to-day tasks and responsibilities – that way, you’ll have a wide array of experiences to list on your résumé.

* Don’t be afraid to ask questions. It can be intimidating to press your supervisors for clarification or more detail, but it’s always worth the effort. Not only will these questions help you gain a more comprehensive understanding of the industry, but they will also help you avoid the kind of screw-ups and snafus that can tank your future prospects with the firm.

* Be prepared to work hard. Let’s face it – interns are a great source of cheap labor, and most firms that go through the trouble of screening and selecting interns intend to make the most of the situation by demanding a lot from their summer hires. Be ready to take on more than your fair share of the grunt work – and to do it with a smile.

* View your internship as an opportunity to network and get noticed. When else is a lowly college student going to have the chance to hobnob and mingle with some of the leaders in their field of study? An internship is your best shot to make a name for yourself as an up-and-comer in your industry. Make it a point to connect with as many people as possible – and make sure that your reputation for hard work and innovative thinking will hang around long after your internship is over.

*Take initiative, but take orders, too. An internship is a great time to showcase your talent for out-of-the-box thinking – but don’t take it too far. Make sure your supervisors know that you can be a stickler for particulars when the situation calls for meticulous attention to detail. You don’t want to be seen as a maverick that can’t play by the rules.

How about you? Are you planning on applying for an internship during college? Do you already have one lined up for this summer? Tell us all about it in the comments.

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