Making the Time that Matters, Matter
Mar 01, 2023
Advice on Cultivating a Successful Internship
Every year, Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts’ nationally recognized Internship and Apprenticeship Program employs dozens of young professionals looking to gain a competitive edge in their prospective careers. Paid positions─offered seasonally in the spring, summer, and fall─span a wide range of concentrations including communications and marketing, development, education, human resources, information technology, ticket services, stage management, and technical theater. At the head of this program is Cate Bechtold, Director of Internships and Community Programs, who started as an intern herself. Bechtold shares her top five tips for cultivating a rewarding internship experience and reflects on her own transition from intern to full-time employee.
1. Say “yes” to tasks outside of your comfort zone.
“Looking back on my internship, I really think that being open to things that were new to me and being willing to say, ‘Yes,’ gave me an advantage when I looked for full-time employment,” says Bechtold. Starting a new position is daunting, but Bechtold urges young professionals to volunteer for projects outside of their assigned tasks and departments. Through these experiences, interns can expand their network, develop new skills, and gain a more holistic understanding of an organization. “Versatility serves you well regardless of the position or industry you end up in,” she adds.
2. Connect with mentors.
Internships offer the opportunity to establish new professional relationships and grow field contacts which can be critical to obtaining full-time employment. “Find people who inspire you and learn from them,” advises Bechtold. “Mentors are your greatest asset not only when you start out, but also throughout your career.” From these relationships, interns can gain valuable insight into their prospective careers as well as support for their professional and personal development.
3. Communicate clearly.
Establishing clear, consistent lines of communication with supervisors and colleagues is critical in the workplace and is transferable to any industry. Verbal and written personal and professional communication is a beneficial skill that requires practice. Bechtold speaks to the difficulty interns sometimes face in voicing their opinion by explaining, “Oftentimes, interns view themselves as ‘just an intern,’ but hopefully you’re at an organization that values you and your opinion. So, speak up and make yourself heard. The fresh perspective you bring to an organization is invaluable.” By interacting with colleagues and speaking up during meetings, interns demonstrate their character and enthusiasm for the work, which will distinguish them within an organization.
4. Above all, be kind.
The power of kindness should not be underestimated; much like communication, kindness is a skill that is beneficial to one’s personal and professional life. Through simple serendipitous acts of kindness, such as bidding colleagues good morning, interns contribute to a warm, welcoming workplace environment. These encounters build positive rapport with coworkers that can lead to longstanding professional and personal relationships.
5. You are priority number one.
It is easy to become consumed by a continuous list of responsibilities, but by prioritizing their mental health, interns will learn early on how to find a healthy work/life equilibrium. “A balance between personal and professional life is important, and maintaining that balance is the key to growth and success. So, make sure you are taking the time to care for your mind and body,” says Bechtold. Interns should be committed and work hard every day, but also remember to move their body, feed their brain, and give themselves time to reset and recharge after a productive day.
Internships are a meaningful step toward full-time employment, and there are many ways to make this time count. Accepting challenges outside of one’s comfort zone, establishing mentors, and prioritizing self-care are great places to start. Above all, an internship is a time to learn and grow through experience, so interns should not be afraid to ask questions, take feedback, and learn new skills while embarking on the exciting path toward prospective careers. For more information on Wolf Trap’s Internship and Apprenticeship Program, please visit wolftrap.org/internships.
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