Tech internships aren’t just for students or recent grads. A “minternship” gives mid-level professionals the opportunity to relaunch or switch careers. Medical technology company Medtronic even offers “returnships” for those returning to engineering roles after a significant break.
And while landing a tech internship, minternship or returnship is an accomplishment you should be proud of, it’s also important to think about what you’ll do to make sure it’s a success. You’ll get out what you put in, so treat your internship like a real job.
What else can you do to gain the skills and experience you need to boost your resume, make valuable connections and stand out among other interns? And above all, how can you turn your internship into full-time employment? Here are nine tips for optimizing your tech internship, including how to increase your chances of getting that post-internship job.
1. Set ambitious (but realistic) tech internship goals
What are you hoping to get out of your tech internship? Do you want to explore a broad range of experiences or target a specific area of concentration? Identify the technical and soft skills you want to pick up and any other specific things you want to experience (e.g., shipping production code, working with a certain tech stack, learning about Agile development, having 1:1 lunch meetings with 10 different engineers to grow your network).
Come up with these goals within your first week, share them with your internship manager or mentor and then work towards meeting them. These goals will serve as success metrics, giving you a sense of direction, helping you measure your progress and ensuring that you get what you want out of your experience.
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2. Fight imposter syndrome
“I think they meant to hire someone else,” might run through your mind during your internship—especially at the start. You might feel like you’re not skilled or talented enough, but don’t let that hold you back from doing your best work.
Remember, you were selected for this internship for a reason (likely based on a combination of your GPA, past experiences, interviews, etc.)—not just hired accidentally or at random. It’s completely normal to feel overwhelmed, lost or confused. In fact, the people you’re working for have probably felt like imposters in their roles at some point (even the most experienced engineers look up solutions on Stack Overflow).
3. Grow your professional network
Don’t just focus on your work—whether it’s coding, data crunching, bug fixing or product roadmap planning. Get to know the people you’re working with and network as broadly as possible across teams and departments. You could end up with a career mentor or connections that could make the transition from student (or career changer) to employee much easier.
Ask your internship manager if they know of anyone who would be good to talk to. Set up informational interviews over lunch or coffee with employees in a variety of roles (even outside the engineering team) to gain insight into what their daily life looks like, how they planned their career and where you might want to go in yours.
Depending on the size of the company, you could even get the chance to participate in social events, hackathons or networking programs to expand your network. For example, companies like IBM, Meetup and InVision use a Slack bot called Donut to randomly pair employees from different teams for 1:1 lunch or coffee meetings.
4. Ask lots of questions—but don’t spam your manager
As an intern, you’re not expected to know everything. Asking questions shows your willingness to learn, as well as your motivation and passion. But remember that the purpose of your internship isn’t just to impress your employer, it’s to soak up as much knowledge as possible.
At the start of your internship, you might want to ask your manager the following questions:
- What are the team’s goals? How can I help achieve them?
- What’s the best way to communicate with you (in-person, email, Slack or something else)? How often should I check in with you?
- If I need help, who else should I ask (other than you)?
Part of being a good engineer, data scientist, product manager or other tech pro is clarifying expectations upfront, so when you’re assigned a project or task, ask your manager how long they think it should take you and how often you should update them on your progress.
If you’re blocked on something for more than an hour, don’t be afraid to rope in a coworker, fellow intern or your internship manager to get unblocked. You don’t have time to stare at your screen quietly for days without progress. Just make sure to ask smart questions—i.e., put in effort to find a solution by googling or researching your question on Stack Overflow, Quora, GitHub or another source first so you can say something like “I’ve tried XYZ, but I’m still stuck.”
5. Don’t wait for your manager to tell you what to do next
There’s probably not a lot of time for someone to be constantly supervising you (especially at companies that don’t have structured internship programs), so seek out opportunities and take initiative.
If you’re assigned a standalone “intern project,” instead of a real project that will actually be used in production (or you have a lot of downtime), pick up small tasks outside the scope of the project and try to get involved in the real work that a full-time engineer does.
How? Don’t wait for things to be assigned to you. Ask your fellow interns, coworkers and the people you met during informational interviews if you can help with anything they’re currently working on. Ask to shadow an engineer during a standup or job interview. The more parts of a full-time role you get to see, the better. And the more proactive you are, the more likely you’ll reach the internship goals you set earlier.
Career coach tip: Make it a goal to contribute something that your team will use after you leave.
6. Keep a journal of your accomplishments
Track and document your daily progress as a running list in a shared Google Doc, spreadsheet or physical notebook. You can show this list to your manager or mentor to update them on what you’re been working on—without them having to constantly look over your shoulder.
Use this log as a reference to remember what you’ve accomplished and the things you’ve learned. For example, every time you close out a ticket or finish a new feature, write it down. This can help you measure the results of your work, add impactful accomplishments to your resume and serve as the basis of a conversation about a potential job offer.
Career coach tip: Keep your internship manager in the loop by sending short weekly email updates with bullet points of what you did that week, what you’ll work on next week and if you have an blockers or questions.
7. Get honest feedback
Tech internships only last a few weeks or months, so you don’t want to realize in week four that you’re doing something wrong or inefficiently. Plus, a lack of feedback can feed imposter syndrome. That’s why it’s important to sync up with your internship manager, fellow interns and colleagues frequently to ask: “What do you think I’m doing well and how can I improve?”
Encourage them to be as direct as possible to elicit both positive and constructive feedback. If you’re in engineering, for example, this feedback might come during code reviews. If you’re a product intern, it might come during sprint retrospectives. Listen to their advice and act on it to show your interest in personal growth and prove that you’re worth hiring.
8. Keep in touch when your internship ends
If your internship ends without a full-time job offer, it doesn’t mean the door is sealed shut (or that you can’t get a professional reference for another role). But know that it’s your responsibility to keep the relationships you formed from fizzling out.
Instead of emailing HR or the people you worked with to directly inquire about job openings, send updates to your contacts at the company (e.g., your internship supervisor, coworkers, people you met over lunch) and talk about new projects you’re working on and how you’ve used their advice. That way if a job does open up, you’ll be the first person they think of.
9. Reflect on your experience to get clarity about your future goals
Revisit the goals you set for yourself at the start of your internship. Did you achieve them? What did and didn’t you enjoy about your internship? Would you want to work for this kind of company or industry again? Did your personality mesh well with company culture? Your answers to these questions can help you determine if this role, company and industry is right for you (and can even help you decide between two job offers later on in your career).
Get paid to test out a role and company
While your internship manager might be trying to gain a sense of how you’d perform as a full-time hire, don’t get too caught up in treating your internship like a months-long interview. A successful tech internship is more than landing a job. It’s about getting a better idea of what you want (and don’t want) from a job, building a solid resume and portfolio, and meeting new people in your industry—and getting paid to do it.
And if it’s the right match and timing, you might even end your internship with an offer letter.