Insider Secrets for a Successful Internship

Congratulations, you landed that internship and are on your way to a successful career. College days behind you, nothing but possibility ahead. Now you want to make sure you rock it.

Starting out, if you’re anything like I was, you’ve already begun to pile on the pressure. Don’t worry, there are ways to make sure you keep your focus. Whether your internship is at a marketing communications agency or elsewhere, here are 14 quick takeaways from my internship experience at Jackson Spalding (because 15 would just be overkill):

In the beginning…and BEYOND!

  • Always show up early, and don’t be afraid to stay late if you can move the needle just a little more value that day. It shows you care. Work-life balance is very important at JS, but so is striving to find the better way to serve our clients.
  • Be productive with your time regardless of who’s around. People notice commitment even if they don’t see the actions.
  • Be steadfast in every task, small or large. Anything worth doing is worth doing well. It’s your time spent, so make it count.
  • Be the one to unload the dishwasher sometimes – you should never be above the grunt work. Bo Spalding, co-founder of Jackson Spalding, still unloads the dishwasher and he has nothing to prove to anyone.
  • Get your work done – plus some. Where can you do more research? Who can you share it with?
  • Get to know all of your co-workers, not just the team members you work with day-to-day. This is a good way to gain exposure and offer up your time on additional projects. You’ll also gain a better understanding of how your work fits into the bigger picture.
  • Be real. Consider your personal brand – what makes you unique. What perspective can only nobody but you bring to the table. Never be afraid to be yourself or show your personality, but, of course, be professional.

The “unspoken rules”

  • Stay humble and hungry – Be humble with an understanding that you don’t know everything, and honestly, never will. Be hungry to learn and grow. You’ll do your part to advance the company by doing your best work every day.
  • Be a “yes man” – Time permitting, take on projects of all kinds so you learn new skills, work with new people and experience different working styles. The purpose of any internship is to learn as much as possible, and in turn, you find what you enjoy, what you don’t enjoy and what you’re especially good at.
  • Know your role in meetings, and always over-prepare – When I started at JS, I was told if I was invited to a meeting, it’s because my knowledge or opinion is wanted in the room. Don’t be shy when it comes to expressing an idea or raising your hand, but be mindful of when it’s best to listen and take it as a learning opportunity (a majority of the time). When in doubt, ask the meeting organizer how you can add the most value to the meeting and what your role should be. Then be well prepared for the meeting. Consider questions you might be asked, and have an idea of a solution ready. A Jackson Spalding intern attended a creative ideation meeting a couple years ago, and because he had prepared thoroughly, he added an idea that ended up becoming the basis for a national advertising campaign.
  • Look for ways to go above and beyond – If you are given a task, always ask yourself what the “+1” might be for that project, whether it’s a little extra research, adding in a couple more ideas or getting creative with how your deliverables are packaged.
  • Offer up your time – If you have some free time, reach out to your team (or the company if you’re feeling bold and ready for a bit more exposure) and ask what you can help with. It shows you care, you take initiative and you have an eager attitude to work and grow. That’s ‘the JS way,’ anyway. Skills can be taught, but no one can teach someone to care.
  • Run your own desk – Project management is key, especially at a marketing agency where working on multiple projects at once is the norm. Show your teammates you can handle your workload, and take it upon yourself to keep the ball moving forward without follow-up. Prioritization can be challenging, but the decision to put some things first and others in the ‘parking lot’ is respectable.

One final piece of advice…

Find the bigger purpose in what you do – Try to see how your work, however seemingly menial, benefits others. This mindset will bring the best results and will help you remain happy and motivated. What you are doing in your internship is important and valuable – you just need to figure out why.

As an intern, you’re not supposed to have all of the answers. There may be an idea you haven’t thought of. You may miss an error in a document. You may make a judgment call that’s all wrong. All of these things are okay – that’s why we work as a team. You’ll learn more as time goes on, and there’s wisdom in asking for help when you need it.

Go get ‘em.

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