If there is one experience that will unite every college student I know, it’s that of the internship. Every single person who attends my college has to do something along the lines of a semester-long apprenticeship at a company vaguely related to their major, getting paid peanuts (or nothing!) for the ‘experience.’ Interning is a lot of thankless work sometimes. However, just because it seems kinda pointless doesn’t mean you can’t get something from even the dullest internships! The goal is to make a good impression, so you can get a good recommendation.
Be Polite! Good manners can honestly save just about every situation. Be polite (say please and thank you, hold doors, etc.) and it will help your reputation no end. For whatever reason, people over 50 especially seem shocked whenever I show even a modicum of politeness, so keep that in mind when you’re having a bad day and feel snappish.
Be Early! Planning to be like 15 minutes early regardless of weather and circumstances is always a good idea. I planned for bad roads in the awful icy/slushy weather my area is dealing with, and even in normal bad roads I should have been a solid twenty minutes early today. (Seriously, I left an HOUR before my meeting.) I walked into the building where the meeting was held extremely damp and barely five minutes early, due to ESPECIALLY AWFUL ROADS and having to park a quarter mile away. The fact that I showed up even in the weather did make an impression on the people with whom I met, though!
Be Attentive! If someone is explaining how to do something, listen well and ask followup questions. Take notes if you have to. Your goal is to only need things explained once, to save your supervisors time and effort. The more you can learn in a single sitting, the better! Of course, it is ALWAYS better to ask questions (at a reasonable time and location) if you’re unsure of something – it’s better to ask questions than to do something poorly.
Be Enthusiastic! Do the thing your middle school gym teacher always said, and give 110%. Figure out what is expected of you, then do a bit more. If the expectation is to tidy a room after a conference, sweep and wipe stuff down, too. If it’s to do some write-ups, maybe write an alternative or two. Ask for feedback on stuff, just to make sure it works.
Be Tactful! Don’t. Complain. I know a lot of internships seem to have their fill of drudge work, but they are still a job. The people at your internship know people in your industry, and they can sing your praises or tell people how annoying you were to work with. If you have to vent, do so to a friend who is not related to the job. Otherwise, assume it will get back to your boss sooner or later. Obviously, if the issue is harassment or a lack of accommodations, then you should discuss it with HR. However, venting your frustrations all over Facebook or to a coworker will only cast you in a bad light.
Internships can sometimes feel pointless, or like a lot of work for little reward. However, you get out what you put into them. A good attitude and a good work ethic can make any internship a learning experience, even if all you learn is “I hate this entire field and never wanna do this ever again.” That’s a valid lesson. So go forth and do your best – sometimes that’s all you can do!