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3 Ways to Get the Most Out of Your Internship

07/02/2014 12:24 pm ET | Updated Sep 01, 2014
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Between working on big projects, asking thoughtful questions and, yes, making that clichéd coffee run, it's easy to forget you should be getting more than just experience and a line on your resume from your summer internship. Along with your everyday tasks, you should also be focused on the bigger picture: how this position can build your reputation in the industry, earn you connections and further your career. Here's what to do so your internship will keep working for you long after you've written all of your thank-you notes and had your last feedback session.

1. Ask questions

For unpaid internships, your "salary" is your in-office education. Ensure that you're learning as much as possible by asking questions! Requesting advice or information from your supervisor doesn't make you annoying; on the contrary, it shows that you're invested in the internship. Ask about concepts, terminology, the roles different employees play, what technology and software the company uses, etc. However, there is such a thing as a bad question, so be strategic.

"Do your research first," says Lisa Chau, the founder of marketing and PR consulting firm Alpha Vert. "Don't ask anything that can be easily answered by searching online."

You should also be careful about when and where you quiz your boss. If he or she is stressed or crunched for time, you probably won't receive the most detailed or complete response. Unless your question is extremely time-sensitive or context-relevant, write it down for when your boss has an uninterrupted, calm period of time to answer it.

2. Take notes

Always have a pen and paper on hand -- you never know when you'll need it!

"This sounds so basic, but I can't tell you how frequently my twentysomething clients come to meet with me and have nothing to take notes with," says Allison Cheston, author of the blog Career Connector. "Not only is it impossible to keep everything in your head, but writing down important points shows you're interested and focused."

You should definitely show up to your first day with a notebook and a pen ready, but don't get lazy and start leaving them at home as your internship progresses! Write things down all summer long whenever you learn a new procedure, task or requirement. Not only will this seriously improve your learning curve, increase your credibility and help you avoid asking how to do the same task twice, but at the end of the summer, you can organize your notes into a handy booklet for your replacement. Ding-ding-ding: That's the sound of intern points racking up.

3. Ask people to lunch or coffee

We've all heard that networking is essential, but how exactly do you do it? After all, it's not like playing tag -- you can't walk up to someone, introduce yourself and bam! Call him or her a connection.

Lauren Berger, aka The Intern Queen, suggests making a list of people both inside and outside your department whom you're interested in meeting. You can even include people who don't work at the company but work in the same city. After you've compiled a list, send personalized emails to each person asking for an informational interview.

"Maintaining a sense of professionalism, introduce yourself in one to two sentences and explain the purpose of the meeting," Berger says. "For example, 'I'd love to sit down with you and hear about how you got started and get your advice.'"

Berger suggests keeping the entire email to eight sentences or less. She also recommends reaching out early in your internship so that you can schedule appointments with even the busiest employees. "If you don't hear back in one week, send a follow-up email," Berger says.

However, it's probably not possible for you to meet with every single professional you'd like to talk to -- but that doesn't mean you can't still build useful relationships.

"People have really busy schedules, so I relied on talking to people in the halls and at their desks and then sending follow-up emails with little details like, 'Good luck on your presentation!'" says Tansu Phillips, a sophomore at Chapman University who just finished interning for Ryan Seacrest.

See more ways to get the most out of your internship at HerCampus.com!