Internships TipsWe published this on July 25, 2016,
At this point in the summer, most summer internships are almost over. The intern on my team sits in the cubicle next to me. Luckily for him (or maybe unluckily), he gets a lot of assignments, since our team is small. Many people assume that summer interns at large corporations are very busy. This is not always the case. Some teams have a small amount of very complicated work. If the manager does not take the time to teach the intern some of the processes, the intern will be stuck doing monotonous work in Excel. The result is a boring internship; both the intern and the company get very little out it.
Our intern is lucky because there is work for him to do, and our manager takes the time to walk him through processes. Even if an internship is not as good as this, you can still make the most out of it. I had one summer internship and another during a semester of school. These are the three actions that I took to make the most out of my internships: learn transferable, technical skills, ask questions, and create resume bullets throughout the internship.
You will most likely be using Excel if your career is inside. Do not fret if you are not computer savvy; the only thing that I did with computers in the Army was fill out leave packets. The internship is a great opportunity to become comfortable with Excel. I did not even learn that many Excel skills in college. Using Excel on a daily basis is much different from using it once or twice for class projects. Beyond Excel, each career area will have its own specific tools. One of the common computer languages in the actuarial field is SQL. Fortunately, I was exposed to SQL during my first internship. Unfortunately, SQL is not as intuitive as Excel. This is where it becomes important to ask questions.
Most managers and coworkers are happy to help interns; however, questions should not be asked every time a problem is encountered. A good rule is to spend around 30 minutes trying to solve the problem before asking for help. The nature of the problem will dictate who is asked for help. If the question is specific to the assignment, the manager may be the person to ask. Spending 30 minutes attempting to solve the problem will allow you to ask specific questions and not waste your manager’s time. If the problem is more technical, it may be more appropriate to ask a coworker or a fellow intern.
These types of questions will help you learn transferable skills. Let’s be honest, your 19 and 20 year old fellow interns have much better computer skills than you. While you were at the range qualifying with your weapon, these kids were playing the first Pokémon Go (if there was such a thing.) Many of the SQL and Excel skills I learned during my first internship were from my fellow interns. After you complete a task that involves more technical skills, it is a good idea to document that accomplishment.
There are some internships that have no chance of leading to a job. Many small employers have interns for cheap labor. This may be a cynical view, but the internship is still a win-win. The small employer gets work done for cheap, while the intern learns transferable skills that will help get a permanent job. Before forgetting what you have accomplished at your internship, write down notes about what you have done, preferably in resume format. If you have written some computer code, keep that for future reference. (Note, if you think the code that you wrote could be considered proprietary, ask you manager. For tasks such as simple queries in SQL, you should still ask your manager, but it should be safe.) At the end of the internship, it will be easy to create good resume bullets that will help you land an interview for a full-time position.
Internships provide the best opportunity to get on-the-job experience. Even if you do not get a job at the place where you are interning, the skills that you learn will help you get a full-time job. Also, do not worry about your fellow interns having more technical skills than you – they will. You will impress managers through hard work and maturity. All interns are in college, getting essentially the same education; however, you will more than likely be the only intern with military experience. Let that give you confidence, and have a great internship.
Aaron Hartfield served in the Army from August 2005 to August 2011. He deployed with the 19th Engineer Battalion out of Fort Knox to Iraq from 2006 to 2007, and then to Afghanistan from 2009 to 2010. He graduated in May 2015 from Baruch College, which is located in New York City. He currently lives and works in Houston, Texas.