This past summer I worked at the Massachusetts Horticultural Society (MassHort) for my first-ever paid internship. Over the summer, I not only worked in the gardens that the Society maintains, but also served as a Greeter for the gardens, distributing information, answering guest questions, and selling memberships to MassHort.
While I have interned at other organizations before, I had always received at least some guidance through the process, whether from a guidance counselor, or a larger internship placement program. However this year, the process of finding a summer job (and then conducting myself at that job) was left largely to me! While challenging at times, my summer internship proved to be an invaluable experience in preparing me for both the job world and for certain aspects of college. Although every internship or job will be different, hopefully you will be able to apply some of my experiences to your own situation.
Use Your Connections to Network
I will start at the beginning: applying for the job. I should mention that I was connected to the organization before I even thought of applying for the job. I had volunteered in the gardens for over a year beforehand. I have always enjoyed horticulture (growing plants), and so when I began to look for a summer job or internship I thought of MassHort first.
The Gardens Curator, who I had worked under as a volunteer, was happy to help me by giving me the paperwork and serving as one of my references on the internship application. Providing job references might seem difficult (especially if you haven’t had a paid job before), but I resolved the issue by using volunteer work and internship supervisors.
Other ideas for references might be a teacher who you know particularly well or worked for as a Teacher’s Assistant, or a mission-trip leader. Be creative, and remember that a reference just needs to be able to speak about your work ethic and character more than anything else.
Be Prepared and Be Yourself on Job Interviews
While not all jobs will have an interview, mine did require one. It is difficult to give a lot of advice pertaining to interviews, so I will say this: dress nicely, come prepared, be on time, and be yourself.
You will have to decide how to dress based on the type of organization and the level of formality, but be wary of underdressing. If you can find out how other people who work in that office or organization dress, that is usually a good rule of thumb.
Come prepared means be ready to answer questions about yourself, past work and volunteer experience, your strengths and weaknesses, etc. If you are nervous, do a mock interview, or try to come up with the questions you think you might be asked. Also, it is a good idea to research the organization you are interviewing at via their website. Do your best to be as knowledgeable as possible heading into the interview. Lastly, don’t try to change your behavior or personality based on what you think will look better in the interview.
Gain Knowledge of the Job and Company on Your Own
One of the first things I needed to do once I started working was learn the history of the MassHort and the gardens, as well as some information about the plants themselves! While a large part of my job as a Greeter was being able to answer questions, I would always recommend having the answers to the most frequently asked questions you might get while on the job.
Even if it is not your job to have the answer to a question, it makes both you and the organization you work for look more put together if you can give a good answer. And if you don’t know, offer to direct them to someone who might.
Have a Desire to Learn
While working, try to make yourself a better member of the team, and ultimately a more valuable intern. While working in the gardens, if I got asked to do something I didn’t know how to do, I tried to never respond with “I can’t do that” or “I don’t know how to do that”. Instead, I found that I learned more by responding with something along the lines of “Sure! Can you teach me how?”
You are much more likely to learn (which is one of the main goals of an internship) if you are perceived as wanting to learn, as opposed to needing to be taught.
Also, try to stay positive at all times, no matter what you are doing. While it might seem trivial, just staying positive makes a huge difference in all aspects of a job. Strangers will be much nicer to you, and co-workers will appreciate having you around much more.
Ask for a Letter of Recommendation
Before I left at the end of the summer, I decided to ask my boss for a letter of recommendation. This is a great way to obtain a tangible record of what you learned and did while at your internship. While you can (and will) speak about your internship in your own words, it is very powerful to have someone who directly supervised and worked with you describe your work. (This also ties back into that job references section!)
While you might not think you need a letter of rec, they are extremely helpful in applying for future jobs and internships. I used my letter of recommendation from a past internship to apply for a MassHort position. Lastly, if you are going to ask for a letter of recommendation, do so before you have left the organization.
Have Fun and Gain Experience
Lastly, remember to have fun! And remember that a big part of a summer job or internship is learning, so try to take away something from every experience. Not every day will be as enjoyable as the one before it, but if you stay positive and focus on learning and acquiring new skills and experiences, your internship is sure to be an invaluable experience.