How to Use Your Internship to Further Your Career

Internships are a great way to gain experience and network with others. You get an opportunity to learn in a new environment and to learn from industry professionals. Internships give you a chance to learn about the specific industries you’re interested in and allow you to find out whether working in that field is right for you. Most importantly, they give you a chance to make meaningful connections that could help you in your future career. 

Illustration by Maggie Ghobrial

Recently, I read “Leave Your Mark,” where author Aliza Licht shares all her best career tips, including how to be a rock star intern. After doing four internships, I now wish I had read it earlier. In her book, she talks about her career change and what she did to land a job in the fashion industry. Even though she had no experience in the industry, she became the senior vice president of Global Communications at DKNY. In hopes of working at a fashion magazine one day, she writes a killer cover letter and does three internships to gain experience in fashion. With her advice, and tips from career expert Jenna Zipf, here’s everything you need to know to nail your internship and use it to help further your career. 

Write a killer resume and cover letter 

Like other jobs, internships require a resume. When applying to internships, you’ll want to create a perfectly tailored application. Licht shares, “give the employer the words they want to hear.” Alter your resume for every position you apply for. Licht says you should use the job description as a tool to create the best resume for that position. Use the same words and key phrases you see in the job description in your resume. She shares that when listing your skills “you shouldn’t just list what you were supposed to do, but explain the results of your actions.” For example, if you create social media content, include how many followers you gained or how much attention you brought to the brand with your work. 

Most internships also require a cover letter. As with a resume, Licht says it’s important for you to write a cover letter that is suited for each internship position and company. Licht shares that if you “have a glaring omission or lack of experience on your resume, it’s best to address it head-on and explain it in your cover letter.” When Licht applied for the internship at Haute Magazine, she addressed why she didn’t have any fashion experience. In her cover letter, she wrote that she was working toward being a plastic surgeon, but realized she was no longer interested in working in medicine. She explained that she never thought fashion was a career she could pursue and that fashion is her true passion. Just like in the approach to writing your resume, you want to make sure your “sentences…relate back to the job at hand.” Importantly, Licht explains you need to hook the reader and prove why you want to work there. 

Learn as much as you can and always ask for feedback

Once you get the position, always ask questions and pay attention to what others are doing. In this way, you will become more familiar with the work environment and how to be the best at your job. If you’re unsure of how to do something, ask. Doing a quick Google search also helps if you’re confused about what to do. After you’ve tackled your to-do list, you don’t want to sit and do nothing. You should ask all members of the team if there’s anything they need help with. Always ask your supervisor or team members for feedback. Feedback is super important because it will help you to improve your skills. 

Licht tells interns to “take advantage of the wealth of information before you. Learn from others and from people in all departments in order to find out what you like.” You might end up preferring a completely different role and find that you could excel at it. If you’re interested in pursuing something similar to that role, you should ask for advice on how to gain more experience in or knowledge about that position. She mentions, “you should learn about your colleagues and find out how they got started.” Before your internship is over, Licht says, “if you feel like you deserve it, ask your supervisor or a team member if they would be a reference for you.” She says to make sure to get their contact information and connect on LinkedIn. Stay in touch with either your supervisor or team members. It shows how much you valued them as work colleagues. 

How to network if your internship is remote

Some internships might be remote, which means you won’t be interacting with your co-workers in the same way. In a YouTube video, career expert and career readiness coach Jenna Zipf shares tips on how to build relationships while you’re interning remotely. She shares that you should “connect with your manager on a weekly basis, one-on-one. These meetings can give you context and confidence to do the best job.” If you have monthly team meetings, try to get to know everyone on the team. Zipf recommends setting up virtual coffee chats with the other team members as a way of learning about everyone’s different roles. You can learn about how your team members got started and learn more about the company and the industry. She also says to make sure you connect with the other interns and learn more about their roles. 

When starting a new internship, incorporate these tips in order to maximize your time there and find ways to learn new skills by challenging yourself and taking advantage of opportunities. 

Now that you know how to use your internship to further your career opportunities, check out “Tips on Networking When You’re Shy.” It’s full of great tips to use by even the most confident networker.

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