5 Keywords for Young Women Leaders to Optimize Summer Internships

Internships can be a fantastic way to gain experience and form relationships. To make the most of yours, it helps to keep in mind these keywords.‘Tis the season of the summer internship for many. If you are lucky and are in college or recently graduated, there’s a good chance you’re either neck-deep into your internship or are looking to start one soon.Whether you’re making spreadsheets at a consulting firm, pitching social media strategies as a marketing intern, or making fundraising phone calls as a campaign intern, it can be tricky to navigate the ins and outs of office life. As a young woman in an office environment for what might be the first time, you may need some strategies to help it go smoothly.My first job with Take The Lead was as an intern. I met Gloria Feldt, Take The Lead’s co-founder and president, at an event at my university and started working the following week. The more I worked with the Take The Lead team (a group of true #FairyGodMentors) the more I learned that with internships, as with anything, healthy doses of intuition, passion, hard work and help make for the most positive experience.Here are some helpful keywords to remember as you make your way through your internship, whether it’s this summer or whenever you meet your own Gloria and start your next internship.#1: RespectNatania Malin Gazek, 29, and an MBA student at the Yale School of Management, is an internship guru. As an undergrad, the Santa Cruz, California native held internships at organizations such as Legal Aid, the Public Defender Service, and the New York Tenants & Neighbors Association. After graduating, Gazek held managerial roles at the U.S. Department of Justice and Planned Parenthood. Her universal advice for all interns? “Be respectful with everyone you meet in an internship. Regardless of what their position is. It’s a really small world.”You want to be the person people want to work with on a team. If you can become that person in an internship, the people you meet there will remember you years down the line when you run into them on the street or when your resume floats across their desks.Respecting yourself is also a critical element to a successful internship. The old, overused adage, “Put on your own mask first,” applies here. You have to be a little selfish and take care of yourself before you can do your best work.Stephanie Vozza writes in Fast Company  about advice from Bob Rossen, author of Grounded: How Leaders Stay Rooted in an Uncertain World. According to Rossen, “Selfish people have a drive to succeed…There is often a higher purpose to be a great leader—taking care of other people. But if you can’t take care of yourself, you can’t care for others. Being selfish is critical.”#2: InitiateTaking initiative in an internship can feel like walking a tightrope between not doing enough and overstepping. The most helpful thing to remember is that initiative goes hand in hand with respect.Gazek says “as a general rule it is good to take initiative on things that will help your team and, in doing that, it is really important to make sure you’re not going behind someone’s back… Make sure that you have a good sense of the company’s norms and have talked to your supervisor before you take initiative on the things that might impact people outside of the direct chain [of command] that you work with day to day.”According to Jon Youshaei, a former intern at Google, writing in Time, some prudent ways to start taking initiative are to “send weekly recap emails to your manager,” “schedule weekly meetings with your manager and routinely ask for feedback,” and “pitch new project ideas.”  Like Gazek, Youshaei advises, “Don’t just run off and start working on whatever you feel; bring a list of ideas to your manager and go from there.”Amy Tan, 20, (not the famous author) is an intern at Endeavor, the high-impact entrepreneurship firm. Tan adds, “Time is precious, so even if there seems to be a lot of unstructured down-time at work, try to utilize it to do something that will allow you to learn more about the company, proposing new projects that fit your interests, or going above and beyond your other projects.”At the end of the day you are there to help your team and your company. If you see a way a system or project can be improved, speak up respectfully and pitch a well informed alternative to your superior.#3: ConnectSome of the most influential people you will meet in your internship will be your peers. Other interns can help answer your questions (they might even have the same ones). They are most likely the people who you will be working with on projects, and they will be your contemporaries later in life when you’re all working your way up in the world at the same time. You’re a team and it always helps to know your team.[bctt tweet=“Some of the most influential people you will meet in your internship will be your peers.”]Gazek suggests “looking for creative and fun things to do together with the other interns in your program” in “non-alcohol-centric settings that allow you to get to know each other.” Planned activities such as painting classes, laser tag, joining a recreational sports league, or even having a potluck can help your group become closer and learn how to work together most effectively.Additionally, if you happen to find yourself as the only woman in the room at your internship, it can also be helpful, says Gazek, to connect with other people who might also be the only “something” in the room (i.e. the only person of color, the only non-cis gender person, the only queer or religious person, etc.). “Making sure the organization gets the advantage of hearing from all those different perspectives” can be more manageable when you approach those situations with a partner or a group.#4: MentorErika Anderson writes in Forbes, “Having a mentor can be helpful; having a mentor who is self-reflective, discreet, honest, curious, and generous can be life-changing.”But for young women in particular, mentors are an invaluable resource. In a study out of the University of California Haas School of Business published in Oxford Journals, Sameer Srivastava found that “women gained more social capital from affiliation with a high-status mentor than their male counterparts.” This was because “women experienced a greater increase in visibility and legitimacy as a result of their mentor affiliations than did male participants.”Not only does a good mentor help you establish visibility and legitimacy, but they are there to guide you, to answer your questions about your internship and about your career and beyond. Good mentorships, according to Gazek, “evolve naturally” when they come from a shared love of the work. However, in order to create a meaningful and impactful relationship with your mentor, you have to be active.Tan, a native of Eden Prairie, Minn., suggests, “If you’re just working with one supervisor, take the time to talk to people not in your division to learn more about what their career paths were, what they like about their job, and advice they might have for you. Not only is this a great way to learn more about the company and the different roles once you’re not doing intern work, but it also allows for you to learn more about the different paths and options outside of your company.”Being active also means preparing for meetings with your mentor, as Management Mentors details.  Sharing your goals will allow your mentor to help you reach them. And even after your internship ends, that relationship is something you can take with you into the rest of your life, so make sure to follow up.#5: Work Seems pretty basic, but diligent, impassioned work it is the cornerstone of any successful internship. Staying focused on your work (even menial tasks) and not frequently checking your phone and social media always reflects well. If you find pride in the work you submit, you’ll be more engaged while you’re doing it and chances are you’ll be given more responsibility as a result.[bctt tweet=“Diligent, impassioned work it is the cornerstone of any successful internship.”]When you’ve finished all the tasks you’ve been assigned, make sure your supervisor knows you’re ready for more. Joan Kuhn, founder of the consulting firm Why Millennials Matter, writes in CNBC.com, “There is always more to be done — you just have to think outside the box.”The work you do at an internship is a personal investment as well as a professional one. “Through working on so many projects,” says Tan. “I’ve been able to learn a lot about myself – what my interests are, what tasks I like doing, what tasks I am easily bored with. And through that, I am better able to structure what kind of projects I would like to work on in the future while also narrowing down career options for after graduation.”