How to Crush Your Next Internship: advice from an expert
Stefanie Strothmann | Student Reporter
You’ve heard it from your advisors, professors, and parents: an internship is one of the most valuable learning experiences you can have as a student. Take theory you learned in class and apply it to a career.
But navigating through an internship can be tricky, regardless of your status as a newbie intern or an I-have-a-dozen-internships-on-my-resume intern. So how can you make the most of your experience?
We sat down with Cheryl McPhilimy, School of Communication’s director of internship and career services* to answer this question. McPhilimy, once an intern herself, has also hired, coached, and worked alongside countless interns as a seasoned communications professional. Here’s what she had to say:
Q: What tips or suggestions do you give students looking for internships?
A: Think beyond the obvious places to apply. Yes, advertising majors should consider ad agencies and accounting students will want to look at the big accounting firms, but be sure to also explore all the other places you can get a great experience. For example, the City of Chicago has a broadcast internship. Law firms have HR internships. Also, use your Loyola classmates for inspiration. What internships are your peers doing that you might enjoy?
Q: How should students go about creating their portfolios?
A: Start to think portfolio in your first year at Loyola. Buy a domain, ideally your name, and begin collecting your best materials, even if you only have classwork at first. Then, when you are on the job at an internship, ask your supervisor for permission to use the materials you’ve worked on in your portfolio. Put the URL link to your portfolio at the top of your resume with your contact information and also on your LinkedIn profile. Your portfolio will be a flexible, ever-changing collection that for the rest of your career you will be adding to and pruning.
Q: How important is networking when it comes to internships? What tips do you have for students to network?
A: Tip number one is: do it. Don’t wait until you graduate to make connections. Be proactive and use LinkedIn to connect to every professional who visits a class, anyone you meet on a workplace tour, or anyone you talk to a career fair. On an internship, get to know and stay in touch with your supervisor, coworkers and the other interns. And network with your classmates at Loyola, because they can serve as good resources for finding for future internships and jobs. Be sure to be helpful and pass along ideas, connections and leads to them as well. Networking is a two-way street.
Q: How should interns approach asking questions?
A: Because internships are learning experiences, you’ll likely have lots of questions. Rather than pepper your supervisor every half hour with a question, try bundling. Wait until you have three to five questions, then set up a time to connect with your supervisor to ask the questions. Your supervisor will appreciate your respect for his or her concentration and you are more likely to get the answers you need.
Q: How can interns take control of their learning experience when they feel like they are not learning as much as they could?
A: Communicate. Things are not going to change or be fixed if you do not communicate with your supervisor. Be flexible and give the supervisor or the organization a chance to fix the situation. And be ready with some specific requests or proactive suggestions that would make things better, such as “I’d really like to go on a photo shoot during my internship.” Or “I see the blog hasn’t been updated in a while. I’m interested in writing a post.”
Ask yourself some soul-searching questions to help determine if the expectations you had for the internship were realistic:
- How am I growing?
- What am I learning?
- Am I getting everything I can get from this experience?
- Were there warning signs before I took the internship?
At the end of the day,you are the captain of your own ship; your career is yours. It is up to you to make the most of the experience. Even a bad experience teaches you something about yourself and how you work, which takes you one step closer to learning what you actually want to pursue.
Q: Is it better to intern at one place for a long period of time or to have many different internship experiences?
A: My recommendation is to try an assortment of internships. The commitment you are making is short-term, so you can find out what you like and what you don’t like quickly. This can also serve as a compelling story you can present to future employers; I prefer to hire someone who has interesting reasons why they tried the different things they did.
Q: What final piece of advice would you give interns?
A: Keep your eyes and your ears open. See what the environment is all about and make sure you are absorbing as much as you can. The most valuable asset students can learn from an internship is the organization’s culture: how do things work? How do people behave? It gives you a perspective on what full-time work will be like.
*This fall, McPhilimy is transitioning to a role as a full-time instructor in the School of Communication.