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How to Win at Your Summer Internship


Read time: 4 minutes

Internships serve dual purposes: it’s an opportunity for you to explore the company, role, and city as much as it is for the company to evaluate you. Far too often, students fail to take advantage of these testing grounds. Below are key tips for getting the most out of the experience.

Exercise the power of writing.

First, take a few moments and write – publicly or privately – about your current mindset: Why are you doing this particular internship? What are you hoping to learn? What skills or previous experience are you going to leverage? Documenting these informal expectations will help you stay on track, especially when the workload picks up.

Create a few checkpoint dates for yourself throughout your internship to reflect or change these goals. Then, write some more. What is different from what you expected? Are you reaching your goal? Whenever times get rough, you can look back at these for motivation.

People are walking libraries.

No matter what company you're at – S&P 500 giant or startup – around every corner desk sits someone itching to tell another bug-eyed youngster his or her story. I've accumulated lessons from Survivor contestants, nuclear power plant managers, and full-time mom-preneurs.

Use your lunchtimes and coffee breaks wisely. Ask to eat with your mentor and his or her friends, or to connect you with another team of interest. As the new intern, you're analogous to the starving kid walking among countless rows of sampling tables at Costco. Brandish your suit of bravery and ask for a share - but don't be that annoying customer that buys nothing. It is infinitely more memorable if, prior to meeting coworkers, you’ve prepared well-composed research on them and their projects. Bonus points if you can make recommendations or offer help.

If Internet Explorer is brave enough to ask you to be your default browser, you're brave enough to ask that girl out.

Image source:

During such chats, learn about the interesting people they have worked with at the firm. If they are of interest, ask for an introduction and remind them during the follow-up "Thank You" email. If you forget to send the email, it's better late than never. Doing so will remind them of your enthusiasm, especially if you recall a memorable part of the conversation.

Don't be invisible.

The worst thing that can happen to interns is to be forgotten by their team as to why they were there this summer. Don't stop asking questions, asking for more work, and making yourself known. After all, companies rarely need interns to do their work. The purpose is 95% to capture younger talent for full-time and 5% for coffee runs.

And if coffee runs are all you're tasked to do, be the best coffee runner in the world.


Image source: Zootopia

A fellow intern once kept a bowl of candy on her desk. She would make it a daily routine to ask passerbys who take a piece about their day. She soon became one of the most well-liked interns.

Another intern took the initiative to buy donuts for his team on days he knew were going to be rough. On hiring day, teams usually consider the intern's likability and quality of work alike. Small gestures like these can add up.

Be a Learn-it-all, not a Know-it-all.

Learn-it-alls > Know-it-alls any day. A company has no place for a self-proclaimed genius. As stated in Dale Carnegie's book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, be curious and others will open up to you. The Ben Franklin effect shows that people build camaraderie and trust after giving advice more so than receiving it. Absorb everything at first, and then return the gesture once you've proven yourself.

Take criticism. Be a big kid.

One of the biggest pieces of advice I've gotten is to treat your manager as a coach, not a grader. Don't take criticism personally, but rather as another perspective of your work. Every scathing review or outburst is another learning opportunity. That being said, if the reviews do cross the line, consult your mentor for an outside opinion.

Savage Chickens

Image source: Doug Savage

The most welcoming group is often your school network.

Reach out to alumni who work at your company through LinkedIn or your school's alumni database (e.g. Quakernet). Email an introduction and ask for advice on how to succeed in this particular company, or how previous interns have impressed.

Find groups of interns from your school that are located in the same area. Oftentimes, there are Facebook groups for company-specific or city-specific interns to organize meetups. Penn students can get access to Penn in DC, Wharton in SF, among others.

Work hard, play responsibly.

Please hold yourself under control at social events. Even though they are seemingly "out of office,” you will still be evaluated for your actions. At one firm I worked at, an intern became incredibly intoxicated and proceeded to bet on himself in an eating competition. He wolfed down 30 tacos, won, threw up, and made everyone uncomfortable.

He got fired the next morning. Play responsibly.

But do have fun.

Outside of work, take time to destress and enjoy yourself. Don't get caught up in equating work to life; this is where you are most vulnerable to burnout. As stated by Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo, burnout is the buildup of resentment at having to give up what truly matters. A 9 to 5 desk job can be a much different pace for a high-achieving, multifaceted student.

Chances are this internship is in a new city or hours away from your normal suburban life. Internships are not only a way to try out a company or job, but also a city. For those lacking a community, is a great way to find common interest groups and fun events to attend.

In the end, have a good time and try to learn something new. You can't possibly do as poorly as this intern.

Additional Resources


Laura Gao
Aspiring designer, entrepreneur, writer and everything in between.


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