Landing an internship is one of the most important things you can do to make your dull, lifeless, inexperienced resume shine. We all know education is key to success in a field, but experience? Experience makes all the difference as you try to stand out in a sea of other capable, bright young workers. But go one step further. When a student considers an international internship in their career field, the bar has been raised. Now there is a chance for travel, adventure, and that highly coveted global perspective in an increasingly global world.
So with ticket in hand, a pair of walking shoes and dress casual shoes waiting in your luggage, you are ready. But before you load the car for the trip to the airport, it’s time to consider the most important checklist before you depart – how to be a SUCCESSFUL (i.e. useful, unforgettable, productive, valued, and well-referred) INTERN. Here are five tips for having a great internship:
- BE OPEN – Imagine taking an inner selfie of your thoughts and motivations. Do you expect to be welcomed enthusiastically? To work instantly on a dynamic team with challenging responsibilities? To have lunch with the CEO (or manager or director) in the first week? Goals and dreams are great, but when we make these into expectations or non-negotiable requirements, we do ourselves and our host company a disservice. Stay flexible and open. Be curious and observant. Try to meet some of their needs and learn their ways and they will be more open to trying to help you.
- SAY YES – It’s just like improv, and isn’t life just a big improv sketch? Saying “yes” with your body language, your pleasant face, and of course your words, really helps. When someone asks you to spend the afternoon helping them catch up on shredding – sure, no problem. When challenged with a new and unknown task – yes, you will give it your best effort. Invited to join the team for lunch – sounds fun! Using this helpful improv method does not mean you won’t listen to your gut when it gives you caution flags about someone who you don’t know that well or that you will turn a blind eye to illegal or unscrupulous business dealings. It means that in the majority of cases, when the choice is to be optimistic or pessimistic, you choose the former and say, “yes”!
- BE ON TIME – You will be in a new country and a new workplace culture but try not to let this distract you from some very simple goals. Be disciplined by sticking to a very predictable schedule and employing all the A-student behavior that goes along with that. Dress well, be on time and don’t leave early. These things will be expected of you and are 100% attainable.
- ASSUME POSITIVE INTENT – Don’t get wrapped up into water cooler talk or gossip about the boss. Don’t disparage your teammate to your host family. It’s tempting to complain about people and the strange/annoying things they do but it will just make you more unhappy in your experience abroad! People are complex and human relationships can be bumpy now and then. Do yourself a favor and take a deep breath. Look at the offending person or action and try to assume positive intent. Developing a thicker skin for awkward interactions or the occasional miscommunication will pay off big in life.
- TALK TO SOMEONE (THE RIGHT SOMEONE)- if you can’t let it go – if you aren’t happy – if you just can’t figure out what to do next or the work is challenging, talk to someone! But talk to the RIGHT someone. You will have a manager or team leader who is responsible for guiding and supervising your work. Go to them. Be open (#1) and assume positive intent (#4) and definitely share your worry or problem. Don’t let it go too long or talk to the whole office before you talk to the person who counts. Build trust by looking for help and try your hardest to stay emotionally neutral while you do it. Keep those communication channels open. If it still isn’t working with the new fix, set up another meeting or reach out to your program advisors back home to assist you. By communicating your needs, you increase your chances of success!