Be a Successful Intern: Advice from the Pros

Preparing for an Internship/Volunteer Position

Last week’s panel discussion, Preparing for an Internship or Volunteer Position, provided attendees with some valuable advice. Here’s a brief synopsis of some of the panelists points.

  • Be willing to do more. You enter an internship with a basic position description and initial list of projects. However, when you run out of prescribed things to do, look for more to do. Ask your supervisor if there is anything they would like help with. Look around you – Do you see potential projects just waiting for someone to work on? Going above and beyond your job description not only allows you to learn more from your internship, but it demonstrates a strong work ethic.
  • Be willing to do the grunt work. Everybody has to do those everyday, boring office tasks: filing, making copies, etc. You should expect these tasks to be part of your internship, and you should approach them with the same enthusiasm you show your major internship projects. While it is true that the classic bad internship is one in which this is all you do, you won’t find an internship that doesn’t include some menial tasks. As Whitewater City Manager Kevin Brunner stated, if he has to do this stuff, an intern should do this stuff, too. If the menial work makes up half or more of your internship, then you probably want to discuss this with your supervisor. However, 25% or so of your time will likely be devoted to these tasks. Do them without complaint.
  • Be committed. One issue that came up from our volunteer-focused panelists was the issue of commitment. Anne Dudzek from Big Brothers Big Sisters talked about the need for commitment from students in their Lunch Buddies program, where a college student is paired with an elementary school child to meet once a week for lunch. When a volunteer doesn’t show, it hurts the child, not just the volunteer. In an internship, even if it’s unpaid, the organization hosting you is depending on the work you are doing. If you don’t show up to work or don’t follow through on your responsibilities, you hurt that organization and definitely hurt your professional reputation.
  • Take all the feedback you can get. I recently wrote about how to accept constructive feedback – aka “bad news” – during your internship. Feedback is a necessary element in an internship, because an internship is all about learning and you can’t learn without feedback. If you wish to gain the most from your internship position, take in the feedback you receive and put it to use. Danielle Calkins, UW-W graduate and panelist, shared how she used feedback during her internship with Reader’s Digest (where she now works full time!). With her first project, she absorbed all of the constructive feedback on her work, and she applied what she learned to her next project. This is ultimately how you grow as a professional.


If you are a current intern or have completed an internship in the past, what advice would you give to a student embarking on his/her first internship?