How To Be Successful at Your Internship

Striving to be your best at something is a way of life for Northwestern students. When you are preparing to start your internship consider the follow advice to be successful. And remember along the way if you need assistance UCS is here to help. Please contact an Internship Specialist if you have any questions or concerns.

Before Starting Your Internship

  • Research the company or organization you will be working for in order to be prepared for what your environment and responsibilities entail.
  • Complete any required paperwork from your employer's Human Resources department and ask what documents you need to bring on your first day.
  • Communicate with your supervisor about expectations for your first day (i.e. dress code, arrival time, parking, directions and security information)

On Your First Day

  • Arrive 5-10 minutes early to show you are responsible and committed to being a hard worker.
  • Meet with your supervisor to create a learning agenda, or ask for a meeting time for you both within the first two weeks to accomplish this task.

A learning agenda is an outline of your learning goals at your internship- whether they are related to academic, career, skill, or personal development. Remember to make sure your goals are realistic and attainable in your internship.

Sample Learning Agenda

During Your Internship

Be responsible!

  • Arrive to work on time, exhibit a strong work ethic and use your time efficiently.
  • Limit the amount of time you spend socializing with other co-workers, other interns or online.

Display Energy & Enthusiasm- Have the Right Attitude!

  • The most successful interns are those that display an upbeat attitude and a genuine interest or positive outlook in performing their role.
  • Do the best job you can on every project no matter how small, as quality counts.

Be Professional

  • Dress appropriately for work.
  • Even in moments of stress, maintain a positive attitude.
  • If you're having a bad day, find a way of resolving the issue, or set it aside before you get to the office.


  • Your suggestions and ideas are important to your employer.

Take Initiative!

  • If you're bored, tell someone!
  • If there is a project that interests you, volunteer to help.

Consider Innovation

  • If you have a particular activity or experience you want to try, don't hesitate to ask if you can pursue it.

Be Self-Sufficient

  • This doesn't mean you can't ask questions or get additional help– however, identify resources that can help in answering questions on your own or attempting to.

Don't be Afraid to Ask Questions

  • While the employer expects to get a certain level of work from you, you are not expected to know everything.

Be Wary of Inter-office Communication and Politics

  • Observe how colleagues interact with each other, but be respectful of your place as an intern.
  • Pay attention to the "corporate culture."
  • Ask yourself this:  Would I want to work full-time in this environment?
  • Know and abide by office policies & procedures (Business Conduct, Confidentiality, Non-Compete, Sexual Harassment).
  • Never underestimate an opportunity to learn more.
  • Attend company or industry meetings,conferences, and events; participate in training workshops; and read all company materials.
  • Find out what various departments do.
  • Get to know the organization from the inside: its history, standing market, goals, clients, competitors.

Leave With Tangible Accomplishments

  • One of your goals with any internship is leaving it with some tangible results - both for your resume and your career portfolio

Get as Much Exposure as Possible

  • The more you are exposed to new ideas and new people, the more you'll learn
  • You will probably meet someone who has accomplished great things and has a career you find impressive. Request an Informational Interview.

Facing Issues During Your Internship

If you find that you are having trouble at your internship look to UCS for advice and consider:

  • Assess the situation and your role.
  • Determine what you would consider viable alternatives/remedies.
  • Speak with the internship coordinator and/or your direct supervisor.
  • Revisit your learning agenda to determine if you can accomplish your internship goals.

At the End of Your internship

  • A week or so before you leave, meet with your supervisor to personally thank him/her for the opportunity to be part of the organization and how much you learned from the experience.
  • Discuss any pending projects you were assigned or assisted with that need additional attention.
  • Complete any paperwork required by the employer.
  • Return any company/agency property.
  • Do not slack off or skip out early just because your time is coming to an end.
  • Send a formal thank you letter reiterating your appreciation of the experience.
  • If you haven't already gotten a recommendation letter ask your supervisor for one.
  • Collect business cards and keep in touch with the people that you met, they may be able to help you in the future.
  • Ask if you can connect with co-workers and supervisors on LinkedIn as another way to stay in touch.
  • Update your resume right away while all the information is fresh and so you have an updated version on hand.
  • Upon completion, discuss your internship experience with a UCS staff member for the best advice on how to present it on your resume, given your career goals.