“I spent my summer working at a local nonprofit.” 

This thought used to make me feel a twinge of guilt, like I missed an opportunity and was not moving forward in my career goals. 

But that twinge has quickly faded after working as the Marketing and Advancement Intern for Wedgwood Christian Services this summer. It has been quite a rewarding experience that has informed my career preferences and opened doors to a side of professional life that I hadn’t realized was there.

So, in the form of advice to anyone looking at internship options, here are the key takeaways from my summer at Wedgwood:

1. Do more than network.

You hear it all over the place as a student: “Build your network.” Of course that’s true. Networking is an invaluable skill and will undoubtedly help you in your future. But, take it further. Don’t introduce yourself to people just to introduce yourself to them. Ask questions. Get to know them. Show them you care.

Sit down for one-on-ones with your supervisor. Celebrate with your coworker who is expecting her second baby. Ask your teammate how she’s feeling about her only son going to college. Connect with your colleague who also is an alum of your program. 

And then, follow up. Be there for your coworkers, no matter how small your official role may be.

Be a teammate, not just the intern.

2. Assert yourself.

Whether you feel it or not, you do have a lot to offer. Start with questions. Get to know the organization, then wonder aloud to people who will know the answers. As you gain confidence, share your thoughts on projects. Begin with small suggestions in meetings, and soon you’ll be asked for your input. Know what skills you bring to the table, and then bring them. 

For example, after running PRSSA’s podcast, PR Hangover, I understand a bit of the podcast world. So, when the Advancement Team at Wedgwood wanted to create a multimedia series about the organization, I was all set to help them launch their podcast. (Here’s a shameless plug. Check it out! The folks who are interviewed bring a wealth of knowledge and experiences.)

If you approach the experience with a humble desire to build the organization and learn as much as you can, you’ll be able to graciously offer feedback and instruction when needed.

3. Stand down.

This one is vital: know when not to speak, too. There are things you won’t know much about, situations above your head that need to be addressed without your input, and personal stories that don’t need to be shared right then. Be grateful you get to learn from those times. Sit back, observe, and wait for your time to shine. 

4. Have fun with the small stuff.

You will assuredly run into the typical intern work: spreadsheets, research, etc.. Don’t dread this, find ways to make it exciting! I didn’t expect to have so much fun updating donor profiles in a database, but here I am on Tuesday mornings, sipping my coffee and racing to set a new record of how many names I can complete in an hour.

This isn’t always easy, but it sure makes life more interesting.

5. Make the goodbyes challenging.

Be the intern whose presence will be missed. Be the person who builds acquaintances beyond the workplace. Be the colleague that your team wishes they could hire after the internship. It will make the goodbyes a whole lot harder, but the experience so much more enriching. 

Those are my two cents. Every experience looks different but approach yours with gusto, and it will always be worthwhile.

About the Author:

Brady is a junior at Grand Valley State University and Podcast Director for GVSU’s PRSSA chapter. He is a huge people person, passionate about anything that gets him interacting with, learning about, and entertaining others. He studies Advertising and Public Relations and Public and Nonprofit Administration with a French minor. One day, he hopes to host his own talk show. Until then, he is pursuing a career in public relations, potentially in local government communications.
Twitter: @brady_mills_