THE BLOG

7 Tips for Successful Internships

05/09/2013 06:08 pm ET | Updated Jul 09, 2013

When handled properly, internships can not only prepare you for a full-time working role but can also give you a great insight into your chosen future career.

I did a year-long internship with a music magazine when I left college. I committed to working for peanuts for 12 months in order to follow my passion. To supplement the peanuts, I waitressed at night and at the weekends -- something I was used to doing throughout college anyway. In fact, it was one of the best years of my life, and I managed to secure a full-time role with the magazine at the end.

Now that The Undergraduate Awards runs a quarterly internship program, I see the advantages from the other angle. As an employer, internships allow me to find new talent at times when perhaps I wasn't looking for full-time members of staff. Believe me, when a really impressive person works with my team for three months and I can't let them walk out the door, I will find a way to hire them, or at the very least make sure another company I know does.

So, here are seven tips for making the most out of that summer internship:

1. Choose the right internship

When I say "the right internship" I don't mean the one that's definitely going to lead to a job. It may seem frivolous, but I really advise that you take this time to experiment. Let's face it, very few people know exactly what they want to do when they're in college, and internships are the ideal opportunity to test out a few different roles.

2. Don't be afraid of small teams

There's a great company operating in the UK and Ireland called Enternships, which places grads in internship positions with start-ups. The logic is that start-ups can offer interns much more hands-on experience and exposure to business development. One day you could be writing the monthly newsletter, the next you could help prepping a pitch deck, and you'll immediately become a valued member of the team.

3. Supplement your income

Not all companies can pay their interns, but these are usually the ones who will ensure you gain the experience you're looking for as compensation. The go-to second job for interns is waiting tables -- it's usually in the evenings, and is more physically intensive than mentally draining so strikes a balance with the office. There are plenty of websites that offer opportunities to do random part- time work, from movie extras to house painting. And don't forget eBay. At one
particularly sticky financial stage, I had to sell my beloved guitar and skateboard. With my first paycheck from a full-time role I went out and bought a better guitar. (I never did replace that skateboard...)

4. Make an impression

As part of most good internships, you'll be brought into meetings. Add something to the conversation. If any kind of brainstorming takes place, add a suggestion. Or if someone is looking for feedback, give yours as an outsider to the company. A good boss will appreciate this and, more importantly, notice you.

5. Be indispensible

If you decide you want a full-time role with the company once the internship is finished, you're going to need to stand out. Think of it like you're actually creating that full-time role. Could the company use social media more effectively? Can you help research contacts for the sales team? Can you carry out some vital market research? Volunteer to do tasks that will add as much value as possible.

6. Beware of the eternal intern

Even I think there's a limit to the amount of internships one person should do. I have a friend who had done 12 internships in three different countries by her mid-20s. I had to hand it to her, she was determined. But was she also being naive? It turned out that she had never applied for a full-time role, assuming she still didn't have the right experience for the rare ones that came up in her chosen industry. But when we added all her work together she had well over two years under her belt.

7. It's never too late to do an internship

Having said that, I also have a friend who, when he got laid off his journalism job with a magazine, knew he could transfer his skills to the growing social media content sector. On the cusp of turning 30, he took an internship with a small digital agency. A tough choice at the time, but it really worked out for him; he was offered a full-time role and has quickly moved up the ranks to management.

Louise Hodgson is the Director of The Undergraduate Awards - the world's only pan-disciplinary and international academic awards programme. Submit your best coursework to The Undergraduate Awards. Deadline: May 24th.