1. Define your goals. Knowing what you expect from an internship will help you have the experience you want. Do you want the internship to posture you for full-time employment at this firm? Are you looking to build a reputation that will help you elsewhere? Are you hoping to refine your skills? Do you want to identify things you lack to be competitive in the marketplace? Whatever it is, start out with the end in mind. Use good goal setting techniques and write down what you hope to achieve.
2. Define your employer's expectations. Meet with the person who selected you for the internship and with your immediate supervisor. Identify what it is that they hope for you to achieve. See where your goals and theirs overlap and focus on those areas.
3. Be professional. Act and look the part of a good intern. You should dress the way you see the regular professional employees dress. In most organizations, that will be a step or two up from what you wear to class at school. Speak with some polish. Avoid slang and especially vulgarity. Speak respectfully to others in the office setting. Treat them better than you would treat your peers at school.
4. Take initiative. Do more than is expected by your supervisor. Come early and stay late when possible. Look for opportunities to contribute. If you are good with quantitative analysis, offer to prepare a good analysis for one of your coworkers. Volunteer for the projects that no one else seems to want and do them well.
5. Bring the right attitude. Being successful in your internship will depend to a large extent on the attitude you display. Have a high energy level. Be upbeat and positive. Look for ways to help and to contribute to the firm's bottom line. Be friendly with others, but stay focused on your work.
6. Network as much as possible. Look for opportunities to meet and interact with as many people as possible. Many firms with younger employees have brown bag lunches from time to time–ask to be included. Go with a consultant on a client visit and use the time to network. Attend professional association or civic club luncheons and meet many people. Networking is an excellent learning experience, and the contacts you make networking will be helpful later as you look for full-time employment and begin your career.
7. Build your portfolio. Look for assignments that will result in a finished product and ask if you can keep a copy for your portfolio. When you write a memo or prepare an analysis or a presentation, maintain a copy in a file that you can use later to showcase your work. But remember that much of what you will do will be proprietary for the firm, and they may want to remain confidential. But where you can, document your experience. 8. Keep a journal. At the end of each day, jot a few notes in a notebook about what you did that day, who you met, and what experiences you had. Keeping a good record will greatly enhance the internship experience and will help you remember the people you met while networking.
9. Prepare a final summary. Near the end of the experience, compile from your journal a summary of your experience. Focus on the skills you gained, the work you completed, and your contribution. Submit a copy to your supervisor at the firm and to your graduate advisor, and keep a copy for building your resume.
10. Send thank you letters. After the internship experience, send a well written thank you letter to everyone who contributed to your experience. Remember your supervisor, the clerical staff, coworkers, recruiters and others. This step alone will set you apart from many of the other interns who are faceless and nameless a few months later. And it is an incredibly professional and courteous thing to do.
Remembering these few rules of thumb will make your internship a successful experience for you and for your employer, and will pay big dividends in the future when you are looking for that first full-time consulting position.