10 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started Interning

Written by our winter editorial intern!

03.28.17
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Spring break is here again. Depending on where you are in life, this might mean a) nothing b) time to get sprayed down with sunblock before a trip to Fort Lauderdale OR c) the start of internship-hunting season. If your answer is “C” and you’re in the consulting/finance world, you most likely either nailed down your summer gig in January or are currently thinking, “Wow…I’m really screwed.” For the rest of us (journalism majors included), there’s no need to worry just yet, as the treasure hunt to find that summer internship is just gearing up.

I do mean treasure hunt, because landing a dream internship really is no easy feat. It’s a competitive, challenging process — not only are you looking for a temporary job, you are also looking for one EVERY SINGLE YEAR. The younger you are, the more difficult it is to land a spot. Regardless of your pre-existing connections, the keys to success are networking, putting yourself out there and doing your homework.

Below, a list of things that I wish I knew before I started hunting for internships.

1. Know the company front-to-back (including the people who work there):

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With so many resources at your disposal (Facebook, Google, LinkedIn), there is no excuse for laziness or going into an interview cold. Do your research and become an expert.

2. Understand the industry:

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You should, at a very baseline level, understand the industry you are interested in. If you’re going to be a fashion intern, spend time on voguerunway.com to familiarize yourself with important designers that are not yet household names. Read Business of Fashion. No matter where you’re interning, read the news!

3. Bring all of the skills you’ve learned during your time at school:

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The more tools you have at your disposal, the more helpful you will prove to be (and the better chance you have of getting the internship). For example, being confident with Adobe Creative Cloud apps and WordPress, knowing AP style or being a super-fast transcriber are all great bonus skills for an editorial intern.

4. Be confident, polite, appreciative and ask questions:

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Being confident is not the same as being overconfident. People want to trust that you’ll get the job done, but no one expects you to know everything. When you’re confused, ask questions or for help. Say thank you and be polite, which sounds obvious, but remember that you’re networking here, too, and your supervisor will be the one to give you a recommendation in the future. It goes a long way!

5. Don’t be passive:

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Make sure that the employer knows you are willing to pitch in and help the company grow in whatever way you can. Instead of sitting there waiting for the next task to drop like a Hunger Games parachute, ask “What can I do to help?”

6. Overdress and be professional:

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It is always better to overdress than underdress and better to be more professional than to act informal. You’ll pick up on the company culture as you spend more time there, which can be helpful for dress-code cues. Again, don’t be afraid to ask!

7. Be a fly on the wall:

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After you’ve become comfortable with your supervisor, ask him or her if there are any meetings that are appropriate for you to sit in on. You will gain so much knowledge from just being around the people you admire. Watch how they act, when they talk and most importantly, when they listen.

8. Be your own advocate:

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Learn to be goal-oriented, and set and articulate a clear set of goals for growth during your internship experience.

9. Don’t stress it:

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One of the nice things about interning is that it’s almost like “trying on” a job. If you don’t like it, no worries — it’s only a few months.

10. And lastly: shipping!

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Who knew? Know how to ship (US Postal Service, FedEx, UPS and DHL) both nationally and internationally. Believe it or not, there aren’t too many companies that don’t need to send things to other companies. For those of you interested in the fashion world, trust me, this is vital knowledge.

Happy Hunting!

Illustrations by Maria Jia Ling Pitt. 

  • Such great advice! 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7 are what got me my best internships. What I would give to intern at MR though – go Lauren!

  • Dani Agugliaro

    She spelled confident wrong in #3 can I be your new copy editor intern??

  • Adrianna

    Hope you pay your interns, Man Repeller!

  • Grace B

    Being on time, show up when you’re supposed to, and have a smile on your face. But especially be on time — something I struggled with in my career for a looooong time. I highly recommend the book Great On the Job (can’t think of the author right now) — some super good tips for how to be the intern that gets the job/employee that is successful (as a millennial!).

  • tmm16

    11. In the week leading up to your last day (if you’re leaving), ask about future job opportunities at the company and connect with all members of the team on LinkedIn. You never know when an opportunity can come up and who knows who knows who. Also, send a thank you email to the team with your contact information on your last day!

    -Someone who’s had 5 internships lol

    • Abby

      And ask your boss to be a reference for future opportunities!

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    • nathaliea

      Leave a lasting impression! Make sure the e-mail is as charming as you!

    • Basil

      Definitely agree (not as an intern but as a supervisor / someone who hires). You never know – even if you don’t get onto a formal training programme or grad scheme, other jobs might come and it’s nice to take on someone you’ve worked with before and who you know is good / has potential.
      We had one summer intern who unfortunately didn’t land a grad placement, but in their time at the organisation really put themselves out there, asked to meet with people from other teams to find out what they did (and showed a genuine interest). When a role came up in my team they were one of the first people I thought of (but they’d already been snapped up!)

  • This article is great! I am a freshman in college, about to be a sophomore, and studying Journalism. Having this is a great source for when I apply to more internships in the future!!

    Laila from Townhouse Palette

  • currently in a sea of writing cover letters and stalking future employers on LinkedIn so this is really great advice (who knew shipping was such an important skill!!)

  • Kristen Kiehm

    Reading all of this and agreeing with every point… and then we get to number 10. I interned with a stylist last summer and SHIPPING is so important!! Learn how to do it in your sleep, and you’ll be golden. That internship led me to a full time job and I couldn’t be happier!!!!

  • The Shipping Thing! So real!

  • Beasliee

    I’d add making sure you know how to write emails suitable for that workplace.
    It comes across as naive and unaware when an intern sends an email in a style they won’t have seen anyone else in the company use – missing subject headings, overuse of exclamations and winky faces, long paragraphs of text, too informal / formal etc
    It makes people feel awkward to point it out as it seems so trivial but getting it right shows you have tuned into how people conduct themselves in that specific environment.