Ace Your Internship: 5 Lessons I Learned as an Intern

This summer, I had the opportunity to intern for the development department at The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis.  I could talk for hours about all of the industry-specific skills I learned – such as prospect research, grant writing, and interdepartmental communication – which, as an aspiring development professional, is extremely important to me.  But I also learned a lot about professionalism, being in a diverse workplace, and how to be a “real” adult with a “real” job.

1. Never be afraid to ask questions or show your enthusiasm.  You’re an intern for a reason – so you can learn.  The best interns will ask any question about any task – don’t worry about sounding incompetent.  It shows initiative and enthusiasm to learn about the role and industry you are in.  For every task my mentor assigned me, I probably asked 5 questions; she didn’t see this as an incompetency on my part.  Rather, she saw it as a strength – she even told me so during my mid-internship evaluation.  Your mentor may not always have an answer, but will always direct you the best he or she can.

2. Advocate for the experience you want.  This is a big one.  You are an intern so you can learn.  Just because your internship is in social media and digital marketing doesn’t mean you aren’t also interested in development events.  In fact, this was the scenario for one of my fellow interns.  She and I, though we weren’t both interns for development events, showed an interest in them and asked to volunteer at them.  Our mentors, as well as the development events manager, were more than happy to provide opportunities for us to pursue those interests.  All you have to do is ask!

3. Never take yourself too seriously. Working in a children’s museum, this was a lesson I learned very quickly.  It is extremely important to be professional, and to do the best work you can, but it is also important to enjoy the work you are doing and the organization you work for.  The museum provided an acting class for us to take, where we were encouraged to let go of being overly-serious and to problem solve and collaborate in creative ways.  I took advantage of free carousel rides and strolling through exhibits before the museum doors opened to the public every morning (this was the best part of my day!).

4. Learn the dress code, and live by it.  You may not always agree with the dress code of the organization you are working for.  However, you should stick to it – it says a lot about your professionalism and makes a good first impression.  You never want to be that intern.

5. Always ask about career journeys.  This is one of my favorite lessons, particularly in a museum.  While things are changing because museum studies is an emerging field, many of the staff I met with did not intend to work for a museum.  Rather, they “fell into it.”  Keep in mind, the museum has a variety of departments, including public relations, marketing, collections, exhibit design, etc., so there were a lot of diverse stories of how people “ended up” at the museum.  It was extremely inspiring to me to hear the diversity of degrees and career paths – some including professional acting, radio, band director, and lawyer – that led to positions in volunteer services, development, marketing, and even the executive team.  Hearing others’ stories may give you inspiration on how you can use your degree once you’ve left school.

These are just a few of the lessons I learned this summer during my internship that are applicable in any stage of the career process!  If you’re interested in hearing more about my summer and how to land such a cool internship for yourself, come chat with me!

By Kaitlynn Cull
Kaitlynn Cull Peer Coach Kaitlynn Cull