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Tips for conquering a fall internship

Jenna Johnson

Today's guest blogger is Enzie Lagattuta, assistant director for experiential education at Santa Clara University's Career Center.

Internships will help you find out what is and what isn't right for you. You may learn that your expectations of a certain career didn't quite match up with reality. It's better to discover this while you're an intern, rather than during your first job after graduation.

Whatever field or job students choose, making the most of an internship means treating it as full-time job. Here are 10 tips for doing just that:

Set realistic goals and expectations
Ask for a detailed description of the internship before you agree to accept the position, and ask specific questions about what you'll be doing and learning:
* Will you attend client meetings (for advertising or marketing companies)?
* Will you gain research experience and possibly co-author a research paper (for science or technical positions)?
* Will you be able to write a short article (for journalism or public relations jobs)?
* Will you get "on air" time (for TV or radio internship)?
* Will you gain experience in the investment process for both public and private markets (finance industry)?
Your learning agenda should target specific skills and experience that you hope to acquire and demonstrate.

Show a can-do attitude
Take on any task assigned with enthusiasm, and take the initiative to acquire new skills. Always accept criticism graciously and maintain a sense of humor.

Learn the unwritten rules
Get to know your co-workers early in your internship. They will help you to quickly learn the culture in which you will be working. Watch closely how things get done, ask questions, and pay attention to how people interact with each other.

Take your assignments seriously
Build a reputation for being conscientious and dependable, and be diligent and accurate in your work. If you encounter ambiguity in the work environment, seek direction when in doubt. Most importantly, learn from your errors.

Meet deadlines
Always ask when an assignment is due. This will help you prioritize and manage time accordingly. Alert your boss in advance if you're unable to meet expectations, which shows respect and professional maturity.

Communicate effectively and respectfully
Don't be afraid to present useful ideas that may save time or money or solve problems. Make sure, however, that your style does not come across as arrogant. Employers value assertiveness but not aggressiveness. Find the proper way to address individuals, including customers. Maintain a pleasant and respectful demeanor with everyone, regardless of rank.

Be flexible
Accept a wide variety of tasks, even those that may not relate directly to your assignments or those that may seem like grunt work. Your willingness to go the extra mile, especially during "crunch time," will help you carve the way to assuming greater responsibilities.

Be a team player
Learn how your assignment fits into the grand scheme of things and keep a keen eye on getting the job done. In today's work environment, success is often defined along the lines of your ability to get a long with and interact with others. You're a winner only if your team wins.

Get a mentor
Identify at least one individual to serve as your mentor or professional guardian. It should be someone who is willing to take a personal interest in your career development and success. Network wisely and get "plugged in" by associating with seasoned employees who may share their knowledge, perspectives, and insights.

Have fun
Participate in work-related social functions, and become an active member in your work community, but always keep it professional.

Campus Overload is a daily must-read for all college students. Make sure to bookmark http://washingtonpost.com/campus-overload. You can also follow me on Twitter and fan Campus Overload on Facebook.

By Jenna Johnson  | September 29, 2010; 10:35 AM ET
Categories:  D.C. Interns  | Tags:  Internships  
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