Summer Internship Tips

internship tips

Prepare for your summer job with these helpful internship tips. Photo by David Sim

Tips and Tricks for Getting Through Any Summer Internship

So, you’ve finished classes at Harvard and gotten an internship in Cambridge (or Boston) this summer. Your housing is settled, you’ve installed some form of AC in your room, and you’ve officially broken out those denim cutoffs you longed for all winter. There are tons of amazing professional opportunities in this enormous college town–but how do you start at the bottom? We’ve compiled a list of internship tips so you don’t walk into your first board meeting completely unprepared.  (And if you’re looking for some guidance on getting an internship click here for the “The Intern Files”

internship tips

Feeling lost in your internship? You shouldn’t. Photo by banspy

Internship Tip #1 – Don’t waste your employer’s time.

I totally understand how difficult it is to pull yourself out of the charmed college lifestyle. I spend my semesters dragging myself out of bed after hitting “snooze” a million times and pulling on yoga pants instead of actually getting dressed for class. If you have a 9-to-5 this summer, though, that ain’t gonna fly. Summer parties are tempting–especially in a college town as big as Cambridge–but get yourself in bed early (sans Netflix, Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, etc.) and set your coffee maker’s timer so you can, you know, actually be useful once you sit down at your desk. If that’s really a difficult task for you, try doing what I do and bribe yourself with a latte from Flour or a sweet potato sandwich from Crema every morning.

Internship Tip #2 – Speak up if you want more responsibility.

internship tips

Speak up if you feel as though your needs aren’t being met. Photo by Siebuhr

The biggest myth surrounding internships is that you’re only going to be getting coffee and making copies for those who work above you for the entire summer. Let me assure you this does not have to be the case. If you feel as though your work at your internship is not meeting your expectations, say something. Stop perpetuating the idea that interns are helpless and put yourself out there. Ask to join a team project, listen in on a conference call, or offer up some ideas you have had in your time working there. Most internships want you to get as much out of your time at the company as possible, but they don’t have time to hold your hand and ensure that you’re always busy.

Internship Tip #3 – Let them know what you’re interested in.

Your interests can be as broad as “lifestyle writing” or as focused as “the study and analysis of East Asian pottery trends in the mid-13th century,” as long as you have a long-term goal. Not only does such a goal make you seem much more driven in the eyes of your employers, but they’ll be able to assign you to projects and teams that are more suited to you and your dream résumé.

Internship Tip #4 – Sometimes the smallest companies have the best internships.

Your friends’ internships at ABC, Glamour, and Vogue may seem intimidating, but rest assured that you’re probably all getting the same information at the same time. You just might be utilizing it a bit more, because the best part about smaller companies is the opportunity to have a hands-on experience doing what you want to do in life. In the summer of 2013, I interned at a small feminist publishing company called Seal Press, where I got to see and help with the publication of a few different books from start to finish.

Internship Tip #5 – Keep up your connections after you have left.

Just like you followed up after your initial interview, follow up with your boss soon after your last day. It doesn’t have to be anything stilted or formal (depending on your relationship), just a simple email or thank-you note acknowledging your internship at the company and expressing your appreciation. Leave on a good note. If you want to stay in your internship’s field, the connections you made will be extremely helpful not only in finding letters of recommendation, but also finding actual positions next summer or after graduation.

Internship Tip #6 – Keep a working list of your responsibilities.

Whenever I’m at a new internship, I always make sure to keep a page in my planner for quick notes about things I’ve done at work. Over the course of a summer, memories of specific duties fade and can easily make all of your hard work look significantly less impressive. I’ll give you bonus points if you continuously update your résumé while you’re working at your internship. I have yet to reach that level of maturity.

Internship Tip #7 – Remember that you’re working for free.

The professional game is tough, especially when you’re still a bit of a greenhorn. It’s hard to ask for time off, breaks, or other things you know you’re legally entitled to.

internship tips

Don’t be afraid to let your bosses know your limits. Photo by Frederica Raino

Unpaid internships are especially tricky in this arena specifically because you are unpaid. Some companies will try to take advantage of your free labor and overwork you to save on other costs (shout out to everyone who had to endure internships at Condé Nast).

In college, we’re taught that we need the internship more than the internship needs us. We work long hours with no pay in exchange for a name on our résumés, which is all fine and dandy until we realize that we’ve taken on responsibilities from two other full-time employees. It’s okay to be like, “Hey, I’m swamped, can I do that later?” You’re an intern–you’re new to all things professional, and you’re allowed to mess up or be a little slow every once in a while. Don’t let yourself get swept away by it all.

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Starting out at a summer internship is tricky, especially if you aren’t from Cambridge. But hey, at least you’ve got one! So take a deep breath and these handy tips and rock whatever job you’ve got this summer!


Katie Smith, Contributing Writer