Seven ways to maximize your internship

1. Set goals specifically for your internship: the first thing you need to consider as you approach the summer is what your goals are. Of course, you must first ask the larger question: What is your ultimate goal?

Goals set by former summer interns we interviewed included:

  • Meet 75 people within the company (this intern actively tracked who she was meeting, and how; she remains in touch with many of them now)
  • Determine if [company/industry/type of role] is something I want full-time by getting fully engaged in work
  • Complete a project with results that will be implemented within a year

Now is the time to define realistic, actionable goals for your internship. Do you want to network your way to a certain executive within the company? Successfully complete a specific project? Serve in a leadership capacity for your internship class? Use our summer internship goals worksheet (aka Summer Internship Mad Libs) to help you brainstorm what you hope to accomplish this summer!

Reflection from summer intern: “While setting goals is important for your own purposes, remember that your employer is also likely to ask about your goals in your very first conversation… you’ll want to be ready to convey your directedness.”


2. Aim to differentiate yourself early: one easy win is to brush up now on Excel. While you’re probably pretty solid with spreadsheets, at this point being a real Excel expert can save you a great deal of time – and not just in banking, PE, or consulting. Being able to get work done efficiently and having confidence in your output provides a quick way to stand out. It gives you time to reflect and prepare to present those results.

To give yourself every advantage before your internship starts, check out our Excel resources; in particular, Efficient Excel may be a helpful, easy-to-use tool to help you prepare. 

Gentle note of caution from summer interns: “Don’t try too hard to get noticed… the last thing that you want to do is be the intern who overpowers others.”

3. Define the one takeaway you want people to have: recently, we discussed defining your personal brand, along with ways you can rebrand yourself if necessary.

If you’ve decided to go that route, this is the perfect time to complete your rebranding effort. This summer will bring introductions to fellow interns, other employees, and superiors who have no preconceived notions about you. Even if you’re not invested in changing your brand, make sure you go into your internship with your personal brand firmly in the forefront of your mind. Remember, the best marketer for your brand is you!


Reflection from summer intern: “I’m pretty sure that from the start I was known as the connector.  Full-time peers commented early that I seemed to know more people than they did. I used it as a chance to introduce some of them to each other and hopefully it’s had a lasting impact!”

4. Meet lots of people: both through your employer and through external organizations (e.g., YPO, college alumni associations, religious groups, meetups, networking events). This is a great chance to learn about more than just your company.

Reflection from summer intern: “I may have overdone it but I met SO MANY people during my summer. It helped to be exploring a new city, which meant that I had to get out and make connections early. I explored new activities and left with a number of very good friends.”

5. Practice positivity: having a good attitude and flexibility can be paramount to a good experience. Even when mistakes are made or things don’t go your way, try to keep your cool – it will help you stay relaxed and help others appreciate you that much more.

Reflection from summer intern:It took a long time for HR to straighten out a system snafu over the summer – because there was a mistake in the spelling of my name, I wasn’t getting paid for a month! While it was frustrating, I never let it show. People were working on it and I did not want an administrative situation to impact my relationship with my team.”

6. Be transparent with managers: Having open communication with supervisors can be vital to a positive experience. Trusting managers with specific situations can help interns both professionally and personally.

Reflections from summer interns:

  • (Intern 1) “I had a family member pass away the day before my final presentation. While I pushed through, I wish I had been open with my supervisor about what was going on, because my presentation was far from my best.”
  • (Intern 2) “Two friends of mine were getting married over the summer. While I didn’t mind missing the wedding that happened during the second week of my internship, the other one, which was halfway through the summer, was a close friend. This was one event I really didn’t want to miss, so I made a point of sharing it with my supervisor well before my even summer started. He mentioned later that he really appreciated the heads-up.”

7. Use the opportunity to get clear direction on future focus: your internship can confirm a new path or persuade you to follow a different one. Never worked in a large company? 8-10 weeks is enough to know if you’ll thrive in that environment or dislike it. Unsure how you will feel about the heavy travel required in consulting? Ask to be staffed on a case where you’ll have lots of travel with your team.

Reflection from summer intern: Though I had never been in a large company environment before, I knew from the first few days at my internship that I would enjoy it. I joined a number of affinity groups, enjoyed the clear scope of my project and, honestly, I don’t mind meetings. I had a classmate who was also working for a large company who disliked it from day one. Neither of us was sure going in if it would be the right fit, but we both figured it out!