If you're a summer intern, your internship may be ending in the next few weeks. If you're a fall intern, your internship may be about to begin. Or maybe you're planning on an internship sometime in the future. 

One way or another, you need to know: How can you get the most benefit out of your internship? Make sure to leave the best impression? What should you make absolutely sure to do before the internship is over?

Inc.com put this question to a large crop of current and former interns, many of whom had just landed jobs at the companies where they interned. Here's what they had to say:

1. Make sure you have a goal.

Yes, your goal is to successfully complete your internship, impress your supervisors, and perhaps land a job offer. But you also need your own personal development goals about what you will learn and accomplish during the internship. 

Once you've figured out what those goals are, share that information with your manager, advises Julia Landon, intern at communications agency Hotwire. "You'll go so much further if everyone's on the same page," she says.

2. Ask lots of questions.

This one piece of advice got repeated over and over--some former interns even said they wished they asked more questions while they had the chance. "No question is a stupid question," says Melina DiMambro, marketing and research intern at JMJ Phillip Executive Search. "This experience is to help college students get a glimpse of what an office job looks like since there isn't class in college that teaches you what being in an office is like. If you don't know how to do something, ask! If you want to know more about why someone chose to do something in a certain way, ask!"

In fact, there's a definite danger in not asking enough questions, says Yasmeen Arami, PR Intern at Shift Communications. "Asking how to do something and doing it right is a lot better than doing something wrong, and having to redo it. Your superiors will wonder why you didn't ask for direction to begin with."

3. Request more responsibility.

While you're asking questions, some of your questions for your immediate supervisor should include questions about increased responsibilities you can take on, career paths in your industry, and what you need to do to land a permanent job at the company if that's your goal. 

"I'd definitely advise interns to find some way to do hands-on work with their company's main product or service, especially if they were working on something separate," says Peter Svartz, intern at advocacy software company Phone2Action. "If you're directly contributing to the company's output, you create a costly gap when you leave. Find as many opportunities as possible to integrate your work with your employer's bottom line."

4. Take notes. All the time.

"Constantly hand write notes," advises Paolo Garland, intern at Jill Schmidt PR. "This is the best way to impress your supervisor because you will be able to look back and go over what has previously been talked about and you can help remind people what was discussed, especially on conference calls."

5. Meet as many people as you can.

Current and former interns all said you should take advantage of as many opportunities to network as you possibly can. That means joining the rest of the team at after-work functions, attending industry events as often as possible, and meeting one-on-one with both management and peers at your company--even those who work outside your chosen area. Make sure to connect on LinkedIn with everybody you meet so you can stay in touch and make contact in the future.

Don't limit your networking efforts to upper executives, advises Lauren Holbrook, who completed an impressive seven internships before becoming account coordinator at Matter Communications this spring. "While sitting down with company executives can be fun and insightful, it's just as important to connect with the entry and mid-level employees. These are the jobs you will end up in next, and these employees can provide valuable feedback to elevate your work beyond what's expected of an intern."

6. Be totally professional.

Many interns reported that it can be a shock to college students when they encounter the expectations of the professional world. "At school, if you don't do your homework, no one is impacted by that except you," says Sara Ahmed, intern at Leadership Africa in Washington, D.C. "But if you don't finish a task at work, that can put off a lot of people's schedules. It could impact a client."

In addition to completing work on time, experienced interns advise: Stay off your phone and social media during your workday; dress very professionally--ideally for the job you aspire to; and always, always be on time or early for work. If an emergency arises that forces you to be late, make sure to contact the office as soon as you can. 

7. Learn when to speak up and when to step back.

It's a delicate balance. Most interns recommended learning to speak up in meetings, raise your hand to take on new projects, and voice an opinion that can help you stand out in your colleagues' and managers' minds. On the other hand, there are many times when it's better to listen and learn. 

"My supervisors commended my ability to both rise to the challenge and to recognize when it was time to step back," says Chelsea Bendelow, who just started a job as account coordinator at Sage Communications after completing her internship. "This is not meant to disregard the importance of initiative, but reinforce the value of an intern who is capable of learning and growing from the experiences of others rather than constantly proving their competency. The individuals you work alongside have invested years, sometimes decades, into their careers and you are just getting started."

8. Build a portfolio.

"If I could go back as a brand-new intern, I would take the time to track my impact," Holbrook says. "Identify expected key metrics from your contributions as an intern and track those numbers regularly. For example, identify the percentage increase of how you drove social media engagement, business revenue or volunteer recruitment from day one. These statistics add immeasurable value to your portfolio for future career opportunities."

If you're not sure exactly how your work contributed to the bottom line, then ask. It's always a good idea to find out how your specific work fits into the bigger picture of your organization's goals. 

9. Say 'Thank you.' A lot.

Many current and former interns recommended going out of your way to thank the people you work with for the opportunity, as well as thanking clients, co-workers, and anyone else you worked with along the way. Many recommended handwritten thank-you notes as a great way to let people know that you really appreciate what they've done to help you. "Be thankful and be genuine!" advises Anya Mourovannyi, associate account executive at Antenna and five-time former intern. "People will rarely remember what you did or said, but they will most likely remember how you made them feel."

Published on: Jul 29, 2019
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The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.