This summer David Bogaty, an 18-year-old from Westboro, Mass., is
working as a paid intern at Switchboard Inc. in his home town
for the third year in a row. When he heads to Cornell University this fall,
his co-workers at the Internet-based local-merchant network say, they'll be
sad to see him go.
Colleagues say Mr. Bogaty is a responsible, fast-paced worker who gets
the job right every time. When the company recently had trouble putting
together a new piece of computer programming, he took it upon himself to
learn a new programming language in two days that made it work. And three
weeks into his internship, he already has jumped full-force into projects
on the company's Web site, says his boss, Mario Protano.
"[With interns] I expect there will be some hand holding," Mr. Protano
says. "But David has exceeded my expectations. We've had other interns from
colleges that weren't as mature as he was."
All summer interns should aim to hear their bosses sing similar praises,
of course, especially in a year when summer opportunities have been scarce
for both high-school and college students. But many interns don't quite
grasp that there's more to be gotten from an internship than making a good
impression by showing up on time and dressing appropriately. These days,
especially in a tough job market glutted with skilled workers, it can be
the first, vital step in building a career.
For that reason, every intern's first priority should be to establish
clear objectives upon starting the internship. Set parameters and goals and
try to articulate these to your manager.
There is no need to go overboard, as most bosses recognize that interns
are there partly to listen and learn, not move mountains. "We don't want
the intern to be overwhelmed," says William Henderson, a research analyst
at a film-entertainment trade association in Encino, Calif., whose
department intern started last week. Focus on a couple of achievable,
At Boston University School of Management's career center, which helps
its undergraduate and graduate-degree business students find internships,
counselors remind students to view internship as a "learning experience"
instead of simply salary and work experience. This often motivates students
to investigate the company to help determine how to make the biggest
"When you frame it [as an educational opportunity], it changes how
students prepare to have a good summer," says Jennifer Lawrence, an
assistant dean of career services at the school. "They like the idea that
they're getting something out of it, rather than sitting behind your desk
and burrowing like a mole."
Indeed, many employers loathe interns who do their job without trying to
get to know more about the company through interaction. One intern who
recently bombed, says Ms. Lawrence, worked at a consulting company.
Although she worked diligently on a difficult task in a remote location,
she failed to network and get feedback on the assignment. "It wasn't the
quality of her numerical analysis; it was her lack of her checking in," she
At the same time, interns should aim to leave with tangible achievements
under their belts that will be remembered, and if they aren't being given
enough work, they should actively try to solicit more assignments. Just as
employers can grow frustrated with interns who focus on the work but don't
learn, they can overlook interns and let them while the summer away without
doing much. Underused interns should talk to the boss or talk to other
people in the company about how they can help.
"Sometimes interns are tentative and are afraid to ask for things," says
Steve Slattery, vice president of programs for the Fund for American
Studies, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit educational organization that places
over 250 students in summer internships. "But we tell them to meet with
people in the organization and ask them to do things of interest that will
help them network. They should be constantly networking."
When it's all over, many experts say, interns are going to want to have
a good story to tell a future employer or a business contact about their
summer experience. This thought should help keep them on their toes and
"away from doing things that aren't worthwhile," says Ruth Rosenholtz, a
researcher at the Palo Alto Research Center, of Palo Alto, Calif., which
has about 50 interns this summer.
Or, as Mr. Bogaty describes his approach: "I'm just willing to learn and
try to be useful. That's what helps in terms of them wanting to keep you