Building your career is a journey filled with challenges, excitement, and forks in the road. And journeys are easier with maps. In this column, job experts answer your questions and deliver advice to help you take the next step.
Question: I’m excited about my internship. How do I make the most of it while I’m there, and what steps should I take after it comes to an end to best use what I learned?
Answer: Embarking on an internship is a rare opportunity. You’re entering a world full of new experiences and challenges, and you want to squeeze as much out of that as you can. We asked recent Microsoft interns for their recommendations on getting the most out of your internship experience and then using what you learn to take the next step in your career.
During your internship
Your internship is what you make of it, so feel empowered to take the lead in your learning and stretch yourself to try new things. Seek out people to talk with, and confidently share your ideas. If you hear about an interesting project, let people know that you’re eager to learn and contribute. If you’re curious about how something works, find an expert or mentor in that space who can help you learn more.
Some of the most valuable lessons from an internship come from the meetings that you attend. Ask your manager for an invitation to meetings that will expose you to lots of different projects. Even if you don’t participate, just listening as teams discuss various topics, such as campaigns, partnerships, and future roadmaps, will teach you a good deal and help you build confidence in that setting.
Remember that you’re surrounded by many talented and interesting people. Get to know your team, other teams, and other interns, too. Ask them all about their career development, experiences, and any tips they have for you. Find ways to facilitate connecting that make it easy for the people you want to meet. For example, one recent Microsoft intern shared that at the beginning of their internship, they came up with an idea for a project called “lunch date with a Microsoftie,” where interns invited full-time colleagues to have lunch with them. It was fun for both employees and interns, and it helped the interns understand more about the business, its structure, and the employees.
Value your and others’ time
You may come across challenges and issues that you can’t resolve. When that happens, don’t be afraid to ask more experienced coworkers for help, but always think before you ask. First, carefully read all the materials and emails exchanged on the topic. Prepare a list of questions, and be clear on what you’d like to discuss. When someone takes the time to help you through a challenge, advise you, or teach you something, thank them.
After your internship
Nurture your connections
If you haven’t already, use LinkedIn to connect with all the people you worked with in a meaningful way during your time as an intern—your manager, other people on your team, employees you collaborated with in other parts of the company, and fellow interns. Make recommendations and give endorsements where appropriate—this is good professional etiquette, and it will also help you obtain those endorsements from others. If there are connections doing work that interests you, follow their progress and consider engaging with and sharing their content or updates.
In addition to strengthening your LinkedIn network, consider setting up an in-person or Skype check-in session with anyone who was particularly influential or impactful to you—a mentor, an advisor, or a manager. This will give you a chance to build the relationship.
Follow up on projects
Did you work on a project that taught you something valuable during your internship? Ask for an update after your internship ends. This shows the people who you worked with that you are interested and invested in the project’s outcome and success and that you value following up. It also gives you a reason to reach out, give them an update about what you are doing or working on, and perhaps nurture relationships that can help your career down the road. Also, learning what the outcome of the project was will help you incorporate the work you did into your resume and LinkedIn profile and allow you to tell the full story, including the impact of the work.
Showcase your work
Speaking of telling the full story . . . you put in the hard work, built new skills, and had a successful internship. Now you want to make sure that you showcase it so that others, such as recruiters and hiring managers, can clearly see your experience.
Before or soon after your internship is over, update your resume and LinkedIn profile to reflect the role. As you think about what you accomplished during your internship and frame it for your resume, include projects that you worked on, focus on transferable skills, incorporate appropriate terms and keywords, and put some thought into your social media presence.
Keep these tips in mind as you move through your internship adventure, and of course don’t forget to have fun!