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5 Tips for a Successful Internship (And Maybe Even Improving the Way We Work)

5 Tips for a Successful Internship (And Maybe Even Improving the Way We Work)

21 March 2018, last update 21 June 2021 3 min read

Hi, my name is Stefan. I just finished my thesis at CLEVR, during which I focused on the business processes of a wholesale food company. I wrote two reports and even built an application. I am pleased to say that my internship was a success and may even lead to a new customer for CLEVR.

Every internship is naturally different, but from my experience there are some common themes and patterns that can be clearly applied to almost any project that are worth sharing.

1. Planning is Everything

Having now done multiple internships, I’ve discovered there’s no substitute for having a good plan. As the saying goes, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” Planning guarantees you remain in control of your internship. That means not just committing to finish a certain chapter of your research report by a certain date, but also realizing you need to gain access to people who don’t necessarily view your internship project as being all that critical, or even germane, to their everyday job. You need to plan for the fact that not everyone might be willing to help you right away. Even once they do commit to making themselves available, you need to allow for unexpected changes to their schedule. You need to assume your project is not high on their list of priorities. I make sure to allocate at least two weeks to allows for unexpected events.

2. Questions Save Time

Whenever you start an internship, it’s probable you’ll be stepping into a brand-new world in which you are expected to accomplish a certain task. You might have read in school about how this task should be done, but the real world is almost invariably different. Experience may be the best teacher, but there’s also a lot to gained by standing on the shoulders of those who have gone before. What better way to learn than by asking experts who’ve been there for a while? Some things you have to learn and discover for yourself. But when you feel that you’re not getting ahead, it’s almost always better to ask instead of wasting time spinning your wheels.

One important point to keep in mind when asking any question is to make sure you understand the answer to the degree you could explain it to someone else.

There’s no point in asking questions if you’re not able to retain and apply the insights provided the next time you’re faced with the same question.

3. When Asking Someone for a Favor, Make it Worth Their While

Be certain people are willing to help you again the next time you have a question. Remember, interviews are difficult to set up, make it worth their while. Offer to send them the results of your research. Also offer to come to their company to present the results of your research in person. That approach makes it easier to interview people who work at different companies. The rule of thumb should always be: Reward effort with effort, reward time with time.

4. Start Your Day by Being Productive

During my first internship, I often would start my day drinking coffee, talking to colleagues and browsing news websites before I would start being productive. I found that by the time I had done these things, at least half an hour already had passed without me accomplishing any actual work. I noticed this made me very unmotivated to even start working at all. After having done this a few times, I decided to change my routine: I would spend the first half-hour being productive. I’d review feedback I had gotten on my research paper, update my planning, determine my goals for the day—anything to make sure that I put in half-hour of productive work. After this I would allow myself the pleasures of a great cup of coffee, a good conversation with a colleague or an update on the news. After this break, I felt much more motivated because I started my day being productive from the get-go.

5. Don't Waste Time Overthinking Decisions

This might not apply to everyone, but I like to think of myself as a perfectionist. I need to be 100 percent sure of my decisions are correct. The danger with this obsession is that it can result in very slow decision-making. I was made aware of this during one of my internships and changed this behavior accordingly. Sometimes we are just 90 percent sure of a decision, and sorting out the last 10 percent usually results in a significant decrease in efficiency. I learned from experience that if I’m 90 percent sure of a decision, there’s a good chance that it actually is the right decision. Instead of wasting time and effort to be 100 percent sure, just get to work. You’ll discover soon enough whether you were right or not.

These are a few guidelines I used to ace my internship. I hope this helps you with your internship or, for that matter, any project you might be working on. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me on my LinkedIn page. No matter how busy I am I’ll be sure to make time to respond—assuming, of course, you’re willing to share what you eventually learn.


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Stefan Fledderus Stefan Fledderus finished his internship at Mansystems in 2018. During his internship he focused on the business processes of a wholesale food company.

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