What to Know to Succeed at Your Internship

A woman outside beneath an umbrella waving at her computer

It’s exciting to embark on an internship. You’ll have a chance to learn about professional life, to meet mentors and friends, and to gain and sharpen skills you’ll use for the rest of your career.

In today’s environment, your internship may take on a number of forms: from remote, to in-person, to some hybrid of both. But no matter how you perform your internship, we’re confident you’ll do a great job.

We’ve compiled a few tips from former interns and their managers at the SF Fed to help you to make the most of the experience from wherever you are.

Camera On!

Whether or not you choose to return to the office, virtual meetings are here to stay. That means you’ll be spending at least part of your time in front of a camera.

It can be tempting to turn off your camera and keep it off for a virtual meeting. After all, you can still hear what’s happening, right? Plus, nobody wants to see the mess in your living room. But keeping the camera off can have downsides. Colleagues will be unsure of what you’re doing and where you are—and you may be tempted to work on other things or to disengage. Moreover, an important aspect of communication is nonverbal communication. A simple nod or smile can go a long way in building relationships in a virtual environment.

If you’re worried about a cluttered background, spend some time scouting for a better location: even a plain white wall will do. And many video conferencing programs now provide built-in backgrounds that blur your environment.

In general, it’s considered good etiquette to keep your camera on. That said, virtual meetings can be draining. That’s especially true if you are multitasking—so try to avoid having your screen full of unnecessary windows. Also consider turning off self-view: Seeing yourself on screen can make you feel self-conscious.

When you feel fatigued, don’t hesitate to take a short break with your camera off. If you have wireless headphones or a portable computer, you can continue to listen while you stretch or make yourself a cup of coffee or tea.

Speak Up

If you’ve been chosen for an internship, it’s because the managers believe in you, your abilities, and your ideas. So don’t be afraid to speak up! Easier said than done, we know. But even if you’re not a natural talker, you can find ways to add to the conversation.

One strategy is to plan ahead. What’s the meeting about? If you’re aware of what will be discussed, you can prepare comments and ideas. Don’t hesitate to talk to your manager beforehand, too. There may be a way to give you space to share without the pressure of piping up in a conversation.

On the other hand, you could allow yourself to loosen up. In brainstorming sessions, for example, there’s no such thing as a bad idea. Throw something out there—it may be a surprise hit, or at least inspire a new line of thinking.

Finally, ask questions. If something doesn’t make sense to you, ask for clarification. Questions are a way to move good ideas forward, or poke holes in bad ones.

“Everybody at the San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank that I have met, and I’ve met a lot of people now, is so friendly and so incredibly nice. You don’t have to be scared. You don’t need to be afraid of being judged for messing up some sort of unspoken code of conduct that a lot of consulting companies or other companies have. We do have a lot of like procedures for how we do the actual work, but the culture is very open and you can’t really make mistakes as long as you’re a nice person and you have good intentions.”

-Eva S., Summer 2020 SF Fed Intern, Supervision + Credit

Don’t Be Scared (To Ask a Silly Question)

Speaking of questions, don’t be afraid to make an inquiry or request assistance. You’re not expected to be an expert, you’re expected to learn.

That said, a little initiative can go a long way. If you can easily find an answer on Google, try that first.

“One the tips I received that I can’t forget is that all interns should not be afraid to ask questions and/or ask for help. Since most students starting these internships are rising seniors or juniors in college, we don’t know everything. School is a totally different environment than a job. So, people in your field know a lot more than you do and have real-life experience.”

-Toran L., Summer 2020 SF Fed Intern, Supervision + Credit

Take Advantage of Resources

The Bank’s Internship Council sets up special events for interns to get to know each other and to have some fun on the job.

That’s not the only way to connect with others though. The SF Fed also has a number of Employee Resource Groups meant to create an inclusive space for employees of all backgrounds. There are ERGs for employees who identify as Asian, Black, Christian, Filipino, Latinx, LGBTQ, parents and caregivers, persons with disabilities, South Asian, women, young professionals, and veterans, along with their allies. Consider sitting in on a meeting and connecting with folks outside your team.

Get a Mentor

One of the best ways to find out about a job or a career is to learn from someone who is experienced in the field. A mentor will give advice, answer questions, and provide insight into navigating your professional path. Your mentor may be your manager, someone you meet, or someone you reach out to. Don’t be afraid to reach out to people you admire and see if they’d be open to meeting.

For a mentorship to really take off, you have to be a good mentee too. Be clear about your goals: What do you want to learn? What are your short- and long-term plans?

Show your mentor that you’re serious about your work. Ask questions. Respect your mentor’s time. And stay in touch. A mentor can be a resource long after your internship.

Communicate With Your Manager

If your manager hasn’t set them up already, ask for regular check-ins. These will be a space for you to both show off your work and to find out how you can improve. Feedback is key for growing as an intern.

“There are no dumb questions. If in doubt, I always prefer you reach out and ask rather than guess. It’s my goal to set you up for success in whatever project you’re working on, and I want your internship to be challenging but manageable. If you’re not sure how to do something, or if something was unclear, or if you need more time, let your manager know! My intern from last summer and I set up recurring check-ins to ensure she had the support and information necessary to be successful. I also made it clear that I was available as needed, whether that be Teams, call, or email. Talk with your manager about how you work and learn, and about the support you need to be successful.”

-Kevin B. Ortiz, Deputy Chief of Staff to the President and CEO

Get Some Sun, If You Can

Regardless of whether you’re working remotely, from an office, or some hybrid of both, work life is full of challenges. It’s critical to develop practices to keep yourself healthy and happy. That may mean setting a timer to remind yourself to occasionally get up, stretch, or take a walk. Or you may spend a few minutes between assignments centering yourself with a mindfulness activity. If you have the opportunity, you may even find it productive to work outside on a pleasant day.

“It’s hard to stare at a computer screen for 6+ hours. Try to get outside to work sometimes, go somewhere safe, and adjust your schedule accordingly. This helped a lot last summer and in my full-time position because managers and trainers understand what it’s like to have the personal life interfere with the work life.”

-Toran L., Summer 2020 SF Fed Intern, Supervision + Credit

Image credit: AaronAmat via iStock.

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The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the management of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco or of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System.