How to Make the MOST of Your Summer Internship or Job

You put your best foot forward to get your top choice summer internship or job, and you show up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed on your first day. You know how important these opportunities are for your future, and you’re determined to make a fantastic impression. But week one ends, and then week two… and slowly, you start to slack a bit. Your good intentions and overzealous goals get a little hazy, and suddenly you’re doing the bare minimum.


Stop it right there! And please, please take my words to heart. Your summer internship, paid or unpaid, is your brief chance to make a great impression. It’s your best bet for networking, getting recommendation letters, and building connections that will serve you down the road. Do not let yourself slack. Keep your eye on the prize, and force yourself to remain bright-eyed and bushy-tailed from your first day to your last. You’re only there a few months, yet the benefits can last you years. Here are my top tips for making the most of your summer job or internship – learn them, love them, and re-read them as needed.

summer internship


Be on time. Always.

If your boss needs you at work by 8:00 every morning, plan your morning to arrive at 7:50. Don’t cut it close, and always leave yourself wiggle room for unexpected traffic or other delays. In the wise words of my high school cross country coach, “If you’re early, you’re on time. If you’re on time, you’re late. If you’re late, don’t bother.”


Arrive early for meetings as well. Become known for your punctuality. No one wants to wait around for a coworker, especially not an intern. On that note… don’t stay out late! If you have early mornings, embrace the “geriatric lifestyle.” Eat the early bird special and go to bed at a reasonable time. There is nothing worse than being completely exhausted at work, and your coworkers will notice if you’re dragging.


Make cheat sheets.

It was a running joke at my first job that I wrote down everything anyone said to me, but guess who had the last laugh?! (Me. I did.)


Any time someone taught me something new, I wrote out idiot-proof, step-by-step instructions. Never assume you’ll be able to memorize it, especially when you’re learning a dozen of new things every day. Then, I was able to use my own cheat sheets, follow my step-by-step instructions, and complete tasks perfectly every time, without having to ask repetitive questions. Not only did it make my life easier, it made my boss’s life easier because I was doing things promptly and correctly without help. When in doubt, write it out!


Stay busy.

Don’t allow yourself to relax on the clock, even if you’ve finished every single thing you’ve been asked to do. Ask your boss what else you might be able to help with, and take on additional work. Find out if your coworkers need anything. Go above and beyond, and spend every minute doing something helpful. Once you’ve asked, “Can I help with anything?” enough, you’ll start to pick up side tasks that you’ll know to do without having to ask.


At my first job out of college, I introduced myself to everyone on my floor and told them to give me any work they didn’t have time for. I became the go-to person for little tasks and assignments that they wouldn’t get to, and it felt amazing to feel like I was truly helping the office run smoothly. Not only does time go by much faster when you stay busy, I also formed tons of connections and relationships with people I may not have spoken to otherwise. Plus, I picked up a ton of new skills!


Ask (good) questions.

Don’t ask the same question twice, and don’t ask something you could easily find out yourself with a little bit of research. If you create cheat sheets, you shouldn’t have to ask repetitive questions! Read and re-read emails so you don’t ask questions that you already have spelled out in front of you.


Instead, ask good, meaningful questions. When asked to do a task, you can ask about the purpose behind it and see how it contributes to the company’s bigger picture. Show initiative to learn about the industry, and your place of work specifically. Instead of going through the motions, get background information about what you’re working on.


Be resourceful.

I personally believe that both millennials and Generation Z are awesome with this one. Thanks to Google, we’ve become experts in finding answers for ourselves. For example, my older boss used to call me into her office repeatedly for tech questions. I rarely knew the answers off the top of my head, but could always find them for her with a little help from the Internet. This made me a valuable worker in her eyes, and I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to be resourceful and proactive.


Before you walk into your boss’s office to ask a question about something, try to figure it out yourself. Re-read your employee manual, consult your cheat sheets, and so on. Even if you can’t find the answer, you can tell your boss that you attempted to via X, Y, and Z methods – which is something they’ll appreciate.


Embrace constructive criticism.

I saw a meme once that made me laugh. It went something like this:


Boss: Hey, can I give you some constructive criticism?

Me (already crying): Yeah of course, what’s up?


If you’re a Sensitive Sally like me, it can be hard to hear complaints about your work, especially when you’ve worked really hard. However, constructive criticism is SO HELPFUL! It’s the best way to learn, and if it kind of stings, even better ­– you’ll never forget it! If you get feedback about something you can change, write it down, hang it up on your desk, and improve.


Side note: I had a boss once who never, ever gave me constructive criticism. Naturally, I thought I must be doing an amazing job. Until my coworker announced that my boss did indeed have some negative feedback, but it was being discussed behind my back. I would much rather gotten feedback to my face the first time it happened so I could’ve promptly fixed it, instead of repeating the same mistake. Now, I savor constructive criticism!


Give 110% on everything.

No matter what you’re asked to do, do it like your future career depends on it. If you’re asked to make a simple spreadsheet, check your numbers three times and make it the most beautiful spreadsheet you’ve ever seen. If your boss needs you to organize something, you better alphabetize, color-code, and label that area like you’re the Martha Stewart of workspaces. Seriously, do everything well and then make it even better.


Build quality relationships and stay in touch.

Add everyone you meet on LinkedIn promptly, so you have all those connections before you forget to do it (or forget their names!). Do small things that show you are a good listener and care about what people have to say. For example, if someone tells you they’re leaving early for their child’s soccer game, ask them the next day if their child’s team won. Little things like that can make a big difference, and will help you make a lasting impression.


Most importantly, don’t burn bridges. If your boss or coworkers were mean Devil Wears Prada types, it might be tempting to just clock out without a second look on your last day and ride off into the sunset. Don’t do it! You never know whose help you might need in the future – or who could potentially sabotage you in the future if you leave on a sour note. Be kind, be nicer than you feel like being, and try to have a happy ending with everyone.


Take these tips to heart, and you’re sure to have a stellar summer wherever you’re working. Even if the days are long and the work is boring, just remember that it’s a temporary experience that might pay off big in the future.


At the end of the summer, you will never regret working hard and doing your best. However, you will regret if you slacked off and no one wants to write you a reference letter!