Interns can use the internship period to study the organisation just as the organisation studies them.
So you got an internship in this company, and have been assigned a project. In your heart of hearts, you believe that you are meant for something much better. Surely, the organisation is not expecting to use an intern’s ideas to gain competitive advantage. They have so many employees who are far more experienced. So why bother? You can utilise this time to surf the net and drink free coffee.
If that is what you are thinking, you are heading down the wrong path.
Every summer, several thousand students get a taste of what it is like to be an employee in an organisation. The internship is a terrific opportunity for the organisation to evaluate you, so it is up to you to get it right. At the same time, you can evaluate the company too. It is a chance for you to decide whether this organisation may be just the perfect choice for you to start your career.
Many interns feel that their project outcomes may be insignificant in the larger scheme of things. This is a myth. The project outcomes form a basis for larger projects that are in the pipeline. Sometimes, it is an opportunity for the company to get a fresh perspective on an old problem. Becoming aware that early can make a big difference to how you view your internship.
An internship is like an extended interview. It is a chance for you to understand the culture of the organisation. You have already read the reviews of the company on various social media sites, and now the internship gives you a chance to see whether this is the kind of organisation you will thrive in. All too often I have seen that interns limit their interactions to the team they are assigned to. This self-imposed limitation takes away many possibilities.
Every intern is a flagbearer of the college she/he belong to. I know of organisations that have decided to deepen their relationship with a college simply because one of the students of the college did a spectacular internship. Even if you decide not to work with this organisation, keep the door open for other students of your college. Take the project seriously and give it your best. Understand from your guide how the organisation plans to implement the project. That will help you find ways to add value.
Make the most of the experience of being a part of the organisation. If you have extra time, volunteer to help your colleagues or even other interns in their work. It helps you build your expertise. Understand the business, its challenges and how the organisation competes in the market. Study the information that is available in the public domain about the company.
Explore the responsibilities expected of those who start their career in the organisation. What kind of skills are expected of them? If you do not possess those skills, you can take those classes when you are back in college or do an online course.
During the internship, your work ethic is on display. So make sure you meet deadlines and do a thorough job—no matter what is assigned to you. Your colleagues are going to be your brand ambassadors. Help them understand how you could be a valuable employee for the company in future.
Connecting with the people at all levels is a vital part of the internship process. Use formal as well as informal settings to build relationships with colleagues beyond your project. Set up meetings with leaders to understand their view of the business. Find out what they enjoy most about the culture. Look for stories that help you see the culture at work.
All too often I have seen that interns limit their interactions to the team they are assigned to. This self-imposed limitation takes away many possibilities.
I know of an intern who used to spend Sundays playing football with some of the colleagues who shared that passion. Join the other interns over lunch and exchange notes about their projects (if it is not confidential).
The key idea: INTERN stands for I need the experiences, responsibilities and network.
(The author is founder, Abhijit Bhaduri & Associates and former chief learning officer, Wipro. You can follow him on twitter @abhijitbhaduri)