How to be successful in your internships
An internship is an opportunity to learn about yourself, build life skills, and consider how you can engage with a global community through work.
What can I expect at the workplace?
Your internship might be your first experience in a workplace, so starting out can feel daunting. You’ll get a sense of the culture of the organisation when you begin, but it can take time to be comfortable with your new surroundings and colleagues, so be brave! No one is expecting you to understand everything on day one, so don’t be afraid to ask questions or make mistakes.
Your supervisor should be give you a good overview of the company’s policies (including things like health and safety) and the details of your role at the start of your internship.
The more you engage, the more opportunities you’ll have to do work that you find meaningful, so introduce yourself to as many people as you can. Volunteer for the more humble tasks too: your team will value you when you’re willing and available to jump in wherever you’re needed.
Paid vs Unpaid
Some internships are paid, others aren’t. You may find that the positive impact potential of your internship experience gives you a payout in the future, even if you work for free for awhile.
Interning for an organisation can be a good foot in the door, but won’t guarantee a job at the end. If your internship is unpaid, have a clear conversation with your employer right from the start to make sure you’re on the same page. If you show a strong work ethic and really engage with your organisation, you never know what opportunities might present themselves.
What will be expected of me during my internship?
Your supervisor will give you the details around your role when you start, so you shouldn’t be left wondering what’s expected of you. In general, you’ll fall under the same expectations as that of an employee, so it’s important to work hard and follow through on your tasks in an organised, professional way.
What do I do if I’m not happy at my internship?
First, talk with your supervisor. They may be able to add or remove tasks from your workload that help you to enjoy it more. If your internship was organised by the University, you will have a faculty staff member that you can contact, or you can get in touch with the CDES Work-Related Learning Manager. If you have serious concerns or feel mistreated in your duties as an intern, contact CDES right away.
Will I receive a reference from my host organisation?
Generally, yes! A strong reference is one of the most valuable take-aways from an internship. Your manager will be happy to recommend you if you’ve been an engaging asset to the organisation during your time as an intern, so jump in.
Is my internship legitimate?
Follow your instincts and be aware. CDES screens the organisations we work with, but if you are organising an internship yourself, look out for the following warning signs:
- Does the internship offer high pay despite your lack of experience?
- Is the focus all on money rather than the experience you’ll gain from the internship?
- Are you getting emails from a different domain than the company's website?
- Is your supervisor trying to access your bank account or offering you cash rewards for access?
- Are you receiving emails that don’t make sense or are full of misspellings?
Can I undertake an internship if I am an international student?
You’ll have to check your visa regulations.
Tips for a successful internship
Before your internship
- Map your route to work to make sure you have plenty of time to get there (even with traffic!).
- Ask about the dress code – every workplace is different.
- Save your supervisor’s number in your phone: you never know when you’ll need to contact them.
- Give them a call the day before to make sure they are expecting you.
- If you have a question, ask. No question is a silly question.
CDES can help you develop the tools to ace your internship with our workshops. Check out the offerings before your internship and book your place!
The old saying goes, “begin as you hope to go on.” It’s important to prepare for your internship to maximise your experience and make a great impression.
During your internship
- Familiarise yourself with the organisation’s structure, goals, and the expectations on you during your internship.
- Meet with your supervisor to outline achievable and measurable goals. If the internship is managed by the University, you will be matched with a university mentor to support you.
- Evaluate your experience as you go by completing a Workplace Diary, which CDES will provide you with - or you can download one from the resources in MyCDES. We expect you to provide feedback about your experience to both your mentor and employer so that future internships are even better.