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How to make the most of your internship

March 14, 2014 by Ian Perry   

My goal for this post is simple: help you understand how to get the most out of your summer internship. I realize the timing is a little off, since it’s mid-March, and I know summer seems way off. However, it’s just around the corner, and I’m sure internships are on many students’ minds. Using examples from my internship last summer, I hope that I’ll be able to help give some useful tips/advice on how to have a successful internship experience.

Last summer, I worked as a mobile software engineering intern at Nike in Beaverton, Oregon. I worked in Digital Sport, which is within the Consumer Digital Technology department. More specifically, I worked on the Nike+ Running app for the iPhone. It was an unbelievable and amazing experience, and I will be returning full time after graduation. There were several keys to my success as an intern, some of which will probably sound familiar, and some of which will hopefully be new to you.

BUILD RELATIONSHIPS

Relationship building, also known as networking, is very important. You may only work with a handful of people throughout the summer, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t meet more. I worked on a small team at Nike’s headquarters, where thousands of people work. My team was amazing, but just a small fraction of the people who work at Nike. One of the first things I did was use LinkedIn to find every Cornell alumnus who works at Nike, and reach out to them via email. In turn, they told me more people that I should reach out to, who told me even more people I should meet. These meetings don’t have to be long, just ask to get coffee for 30 minutes, or even just 15 if they’re really busy. People like meeting interns, and it’s rare that someone will say no to your request.

During these informational meetings, it’s important to remember that you shouldn’t be trying to “get anything” out of these people. Ask them about what they do, how they like their job, what fun things you should do in the area, and just be friendly! After you meet with them, be sure to send a follow-up email thanking them for taking the time. I would also recommend reaching out again later in the summer, and once you’re back at school to let them know what you’re up to.

USE THE INTERN CARD

The “intern card,” is an important part of being an intern. However, it shouldn’t be used as an excuse for poor work performance. Instead, it should be used to meet as many people as you can, ask questions, and learn. It’s kind of like being a freshman in college, as it gives you an excuse to talk to people who you don’t know. All you have to say is, “Hi, I’m an intern, and I was wondering…” No questions asked, most people are going to introduce themselves and help you get where you’re trying to go. It’s also great during meetings when people are dropping company-specific acronyms that sound like gibberish to you. All you have to say is, “Could you explain what that means, I’m still getting used to all of the terms.” Full-time employees may be expected to know such terms, but as an intern, you’re probably not (at least at the beginning of the summer.) The whole point of what I’m calling the “intern card,” is to take advantage of being an intern, not to use being an intern as an excuse, but as a way to learn as much as possible.

NEVER SAY NO

As an intern, you should take on all the work that you can in order to get more experience and learn as much as possible. Even though I had one or two main projects I was working on, I took on more work at times, in order to help out and learn things with which I was unfamiliar. One of the features I worked on was the Coach feature in the Nike+ Running app, but my manager also let me come up with my own feature. I took it from idea to prototype throughout the summer, and had the opportunity to present it to leadership in Consumer Digital Technology. This was a really amazing experience, and a lot of it was due to my manager being awesome and letting me do it. However, I also did not hesitate for a second when he told me about the idea of coming up with my own feature. I knew it would be one of many projects, but there was absolutely no way I was going to turn down that opportunity.

If you ever find yourself with no work to do, then ask people if they need help with anything. Take the initiative, and also don’t be afraid to be creative. Share your opinions in meetings, and speak your mind. You’re there for a reason, and it’s important to prove your worth.

WORK HARD, PLAY HARD

The culture at Nike fits this next tip very well: work hard, play hard. Everyone not only works extremely hard, but they also know how to have fun. As an intern, working hard should be your number one priority, but it’s almost just as important to be well-rounded and have fun. One thing I did was join the intern kickball team. This was a great way to bond with my fellow interns, as well as be active and have fun. Our team ended up getting second place, and we’ll be back with a vengeance next year!

kickball team

Intern kickball team

Another way to have fun is to go to every event that sounds interesting. Throughout the summer, I was able to attend some really cool events, the highlights of which included seeing many professional athletes. If you’re planning on going to an event, you should also be sure to invite your coworkers. It’s a great way to spend some time with them while not working.

As an intern, you’ll also probably have the option to go to intern only events. Definitely go to as many of these events as possible. They are a great way to get to know your fellow interns better, as well as have fun. I was able to hear leaders within Nike speak at some of these events, which was a very unique and rare opportunity. In addition, I also got to attend a river rafting trip, which was tons of fun.

This leads to my next point about having fun, which is that you should never be doing nothing on the weekends during your summer as an intern. Ask your coworkers what types of things you should do on the weekend, and explore every inch of wherever the company you’re working for is located. Last summer was my first time in Oregon, and I spent lots of time with other interns exploring the area. Some highlights were going to the coast, hiking near Mt. Hood, and exploring downtown Portland.

Mt. Hood

Hiking the Mirror Lake Trailhead. Mt. Hood in the distance

BE HAPPY

This one’s short, but don’t forget to be happy at all times throughout the summer. I loved what I was working on, and I was always excited to be in the office. If you’re not happy about going to work each day, that might be a good indication that you’re not in the right job. That’s okay though, because you’re an intern and you have plenty of time to decide what job you want to have.

MAKE FRIENDS

Last, but certainly not least, make friends with the other interns. They’re in the same position as you. Yes, this is another part of the whole relationship building thing, but these are the relationships that are likely going to last a lifetime. I had a core group of about 15-20 interns that I got to know pretty well, and we still keep in touch on a daily basis. They’re an amazing group of talented people, and a big reason for why my internship experience at Nike was as amazing as it was.

Feel free to leave any questions about internships in the comments section. I’d also love to hear any other tips that people have about how to get the most out of an internship.


3 Comments »

  1. Mary says:

    To Ian Perry,
    I am just wondering where you lived while interning at Nike, and what recommendations you might have regarding housing?

  2. Zach Walsh says:

    All great tips – thanks for the post. As someone who’s typically shy, I can’t agree more that it’s important to get yourself out there. It might seem like a daunting task to introduce yourself to important people in a big (or small) work environment, but I know firsthand it’s one of the most rewarding experiences you can have. That kind of thing, really putting yourself out there and opening up to the opportunities you’ve earned and deserve, doesn’t just stop at internships as I’m sure you know, and those skills will stay relevant as long as you’re active in the business world (you can see the connections between the points you make here and the points in a blog post like this: http://www.careerglider.com/blog/how-to-improve-the-skills-you-need-to-be-successful/). Really appreciate the content of your post and the positive attitude you promote. Thanks!

  3. Jessica says:

    As an employer myself I am impressed with your section about the internship. All great advice! Kudos and good luck!

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