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Getting the Most Out of Your Internship: Goal Setting

Internships are an increasingly important way for job seekers to gain experience, master new skills and position themselves in the job market.  To optimize your internship, it’s important to have specific goals and a plan for meeting them.  At the highest level, your goals are: gaining valuable experience and growing your network.  But once you’ve determined where you’ll be spending your internship, you need to go deeper.

Ideally this is a process that your employers will help you with.  They may have some goals in mind for you when you arrive or your boss might sit down with you to work out what your major goals are. That conversation, however, is likely to be focused on how you can benefit the company. You need to do some goal setting based on what benefits you.

Think through the skills, resume items and key takeaways that you hope to gain from this internship. Consider how they relate to the company goals, then create personal goals.  For example:

Company goal:

  • Six month marketing plan
  • Personal goal:
    • Transferable knowledge
    • Resume item
    • Mentorship experience

The best time for setting these goals is just after your first week on the job.  By then, you’ll have a good idea of what is expected from you, what is possible within your internship, and the level of support you’ll get from your employers.  If you set your goals too early, you could be setting goals that simply aren’t possible because you did not yet fully understand your position. If you set your goals too late, you may not have time to plan to achieve them.

When setting your goals, consider these questions:

  • What is your biggest ambition for the internship? Why did you take the internship to begin with?
  • How can you achieve that aspiration? What exactly needs to happen for you to get where you want to be? Ask yourself this question as many times as necessary to travel back to something easily achievable: a first step.
  • What knowledge, skills, and abilities are necessary to build towards your goals? Do you have these or can you acquire them?
  • What do you need from your managers and co-workers to achieve these goals? How will you go about ensuring you get it?
  • Given the restrictions of the internship, are your goals achievable?

Once you’ve considered these questions, setting not only your goals, but basic strategies to achieve your goals should be easy.  In goal setting, it is vital to make sure that the goals you set actually lead to and are indicative of the outcomes you desire.  Even if you cannot lay out the exact steps that lead to achieving your goal, you should be able to think of some sort of overall strategy.  If you can’t come up with a general strategy for achieving your goal, you may need to think about if it is truly achievable.

Finally, make sure you create a timeline for your internship that includes interim goals.  Achieving these goals lets you know you are on the right track to reaching your overall goals.  Having a timeline – and interim points that include key success metrics marked off – also allows you to easily view your progress after the internship is over  You should also set up some rewards for achieving interim and overall goals.  Mixing in a bit of fun now and then will help you renew your efforts and strive for achievement.

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