How to prepare for an internship

May 9, 2024
6 mins
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Landing an internship is an exhilarating step forward in your career journey, but it can also bring a wave of uncertainty. How can you translate your academic achievements into real-world success? 

It’s a common challenge that many college students and recent graduates find themselves wondering about. This confusion often stems from a lack of clarity about what to expect and how to prepare effectively for the professional world. In this article, we'll guide you through the essential steps to take before and during your internship. 

With practical tips on everything from how to prepare for your internship and how to make lasting first impressions, you’ll find comprehensive strategies that will not only prepare you for your internship but also enhance your career prospects. Let’s dive into how you can fully leverage this opportunity and set the stage for a successful career.


Understand your internship role

So you've passed your internship interview and secured your place. Congratulations! Now what comes next? Before your first day, there are a few things you should do to ensure that you're prepared for what awaits you.

Research the company and industry

To start off on the right foot, it's vital to thoroughly research the company where you'll be interning. Dive into their company website, look up recent news articles, and examine their annual reports if available. It's a great way to learn more about the company's goals and culture, as well as the industry they operate in.

You should also take the time to learn about the company's mission and values. These are not just corporate etiquette principles; they guide a company's actions and business practices. Embracing these values right from the start can help you integrate into the team.

Don't stop at the company—extend your research to the broader industry. Being knowledgeable about the latest trends, major players, and general market dynamics can enable you to contribute fresh perspectives and demonstrate your enthusiasm and initiative.

Clarify role expectations

With a solid understanding of the company and its industry, the next step is to clarify what exactly your role will entail. You need to know the job description, what to expect, and what is expected of you during your internship experience. Here are several questions you might ask your manager or HR to better define your responsibilities:

  • What are the primary goals for someone in my position during this internship?
  • What does a typical day or week look like for an intern in this role?
  • What projects will I be working on?
  • Who will I report to, and who are the key team members I'll be interacting with?
  • Are there particular skills or tools that I should familiarize myself with before starting?

By asking these thoughtful questions, you demonstrate your proactive approach and commitment to making a significant impact during your internship. 

How to prepare for your first day

The first day of your internship position is your opportunity to make a great first impression. Whether you will be working in person or virtually, there are several steps you can take to ensure that you start off on the right foot.

For those of you who will be working onsite, here’s a checklist to help you prepare for your first day:

  • Bring necessary documents: Ensure you have all the required documents with you, including your ID, educational certificates, a copy of your resume, and any paperwork the company has asked you to fill out in advance.
  • Dress professionally: Find out the company’s dress code—whether it's business formal, business casual, or casual—and plan your outfit accordingly. When in doubt, it’s better to err on the side of being slightly more formal than too casual.
  • Plan your commute: Avoid any last-minute stress by planning your commute ahead of time. If possible, consider doing a trial run. Knowing the route, the time it takes, and having alternative options can save you from unexpected delays.

For those starting a virtual internship, your preparation will look a bit different:

  • Set up your workspace: Create a dedicated, professional workspace in your home where you’ll be comfortable hosting video calls. Ensure it's organized, quiet, and conducive to working effectively. 
  • Ensure a stable internet connection: Your internet connection is your lifeline to your professional environment, so you need to make sure you test your internet speed, and if necessary, consider upgrading your plan or using a wired connection to improve stability.
  • Familiarize yourself with tools: Get to know and install the communication and project management tools your company uses (like Slack, Microsoft Teams, Asana, etc.). 
  • Test communication tools: Before your first day, do a test run with the communication tools you will be using. This helps to troubleshoot any issues in advance and ensures you are ready to engage from day one.

To further prepare yourself, it’s a good idea to learn about general internship etiquette. We have a comprehensive guide on how to conduct yourself during an internship, which covers everything from communication tips to handling feedback. You can read it here.

What to expect during the first few days of your internship

The first few days of your internship experience are typically filled with new experiences and learning opportunities. Here's what you can expect and how to make the most of these initial days.

Orientation and training sessions

Most organizations will start your internship with an orientation period. These sessions are designed to help you understand the company culture, the structure of the organization, and the tools you'll be using. Common orientation activities include:

  • Tours of the workplace (whether it’s a physical or virtual tour).
  • Introductions to key team members and other interns. 
  • Attending workshops and training that will equip you with specific skills or knowledge necessary for your role. 
  • Initial one-on-one or group meetings to discuss the projects you will be working on.

It's important to be fully engaged and listen carefully during these activities. Ask questions if you’re unclear about anything, and show your eagerness to learn. The more information you absorb during these early days, the more prepared you'll be to start contributing effectively.

Meeting your team

Making a good first impression on your new team is essential. Here are some tips to help you connect positively with your colleagues:

  • Don’t wait for others to introduce themselves; take the initiative to greet your teammates and learn about their roles in the organization.
  • Make an effort to remember the names of people you meet and use them to help establish a good rapport.
  • Express genuine interest in the work your team does and the projects you'll be involved in.

Remember, the first few days are your opportunity to absorb as much as you can, so approach them with energy and a readiness to learn.

Work on skills employers are looking for

As competition for jobs becomes fiercer, it’s important to continually assess and develop the skills that employers value most. Understanding your strengths and areas for improvement through self-assessment is essential to this process. Here's how you can actively work on closing any skill gaps and enhancing your strengths.

Begin by evaluating your skill set. Reflect on both technical skills related to your field and soft skills, such as communication and teamwork. Ask yourself:

  • What skills do I excel in?
  • What areas need improvement?
  • Which skills are critical for success in my internship role?

Once you’ve answered those questions, you can identify specific areas where targeted skill development can be most beneficial. Platforms like Riipen offer a wide range of project-based learning experiences that allow you to apply your knowledge and build valuable skills that employers are looking for.

All you have to do is select projects or courses that align with your career goals and areas where you need improvement. These real-world, industry-sponsored experiences can help you develop technical, problem-solving, communication, and teamwork skills.

Getting started with the platform is simple (and free). Simply sign up, create a profile, and search through their open project marketplace

Maximize your internship experience

Remember that an internship is just an opportunity to learn—it's a chance to build a solid foundation for your future career. To make the most out of this experience, it’s crucial to engage actively in several key areas:

  • Seeking feedback: Asking for regular feedback helps you understand your strengths and areas for improvement from different perspectives. Don’t hesitate to initiate these conversations with your supervisor and colleagues as it will help you to prove your willingness to learn and adapt.
  • Networking: Take every opportunity to connect with colleagues across various levels and departments since the relationships you build can become future sources of mentorship, references, or even job offers. Participate in company events and meetings and join professional groups if available. 
  • Keeping detailed records of your progress and achievements: Every project you work on or skill you develop on the job should be documented as it provides concrete examples of your contributions and the competencies you’ve acquired during your internship. This documentation is invaluable when updating your resume or preparing for job interviews.

For additional guidance on how to effectively incorporate your internship experiences into your resume, refer to our article, 'How to Put an Internship on a Resume'.

By following these steps you’ll ensure you leave your internship with more than just new skills—you’ll build an impressive portfolio and a strong network of contacts. This can help you stand out from the competition and land your dream job.

Jump ahead:

Key takeaways 

  • When preparing for an internship, it's important to do extensive research about the company and industry, as well as clarify your role expectations with your supervisor.
  • In order to make a positive first impression, prepare for the first day of your internship by taking care of logistical elements such as dress code and commute, setting up a suitable workspace for virtual internships, and participating actively in orientation and training sessions.
  • Treat your internship as an opportunity to learn and grow by seeking feedback, networking with colleagues, documenting your achievements, and actively participating in activities and projects that enhance your skills and industry knowledge.

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