What is it like to be an intern during the coronavirus pandemic and the largest civil uprising in at least a half-century? Although at times it seemed like the world had stopped spinning, this challenging time has taught me many important professional lessons, and provided a perfect chance to discover my strengths and weaknesses in the workplace. For those interning or considering applying for an internship, I encourage you to learn and grow as much as you can, using these tips to jump start your success.
- Be an active listener: In a time of information overload, it is important to engage directly with the individual who is speaking, especially during Zoom calls. We are constantly distracted. I found the best way to avoid this is by listening with intention and taking notes. Allow yourself time to actively listen, then summarize in your notes a few sentences about what was said. In your notes include: information that is relevant to your job, important announcements, connections you make with what the speaker says, and any questions that come up. Most importantly, this tactic of active listening helps you weave through information overload and get to what you need to know. In a time of endless Zooming and computer screens, this is key to helping your brain de-stress and organize.
- Proofread yourself: It’s easier than you think to miss simple spelling and grammar mistakes. Always proofread and edit yourself at least twice before sending your work to your supervisor to edit. Make sure spelling of names is correct and correct pronouns are used. Make sure all dates are correct and external links are working. Step away from your work for a few minutes to clear your head, then proofread your work again.
- Create network connections: Make sure to build networking connections with people other than your supervisor throughout your internship. This includes co-workers in other teams that you do not work with directly and other professionals outside of the organization/company you work for. Use your internship status as a way to reach out through LinkedIn, introduce yourself, and ask if they would be interested in answering questions about their job. Create connections between your course work, internship work, and interest in the person’s profession.
- Give yourself a break from screen time: As a full-time student who is also working 20 hours per week, coronavirus quickly shifted my entire life to staring at a screen. The lack of human interaction and increased time spent in front of a computer can be overwhelming. Your brain and body need a break! Take 10- to 20-minute breaks every few hours and go on walks outside to get away from looking at a screen and be in fresh air. This helps reduce both mental and physical stress.
- Be creative and do not be afraid to share: Companies and organizations often hire interns because they want creative, fresh perspectives on the work they are doing. Share with your co-workers, collaborate on ideas, and do not be afraid to express your thoughts or opinions. No idea is a bad idea. And do not be afraid to ask questions! Asking questions demonstrates engagement and initiative.
- Work outside your comfort zone: It can be scary to be in a professional environment where you want to make a good impression. However, progress rarely comes from inside the box. Challenge yourself to take on a task or project that makes you feel a bit uncomfortable, but pushes you to learn and grow in new, important ways. Make it a goal to work in areas where you can benefit from constructive criticism and grow your skills.
- Be intentional: During the coronavirus craziness, it can be easy to lose track of time. Internships are created as opportunities for students to develop new skills, expand their knowledge, and better understand their career field before leaving college. Set goals at the beginning of your internship and continue to work with your supervisor to create plans to achieve these goals. Make your goals intentional and obtainable, work hard, and get the most out of this experience!
- Create routine: Maintain routines and a schedule for tackling each new day. Every day, create a to-do list that includes three lists of three to help better organize what you need to get done. The first list has three things you will do today. The second list is three things you would like to get done but that are not essential. The third is three things that need to be done at some point. Your brain adapts to environments, so keep your space organized and well-planned.
- Get educated and do not stop learning: Going into an internship, everything seems like new information. Eventually, you become familiar with terms, people, places, and important information relative to your company/ organization. However, remote working can make you feel disconnected from the rest of the world and your work. Spend time reading new books and articles related to your work. Keep up with news regarding your work and ask questions about what you are learning in your internship. This is another way to expand your knowledge and challenge yourself.
The pandemic has shifted the experience of an internship, but it remains a valuable and exciting opportunity nonetheless. Using these tips, any intern can take on the challenges and advantages of this unprecedented time in history.