Skip Navigation

Keys to Achieving a Meaningful Work Experience

Preventing Problems/Optimizing Results

Courtesy of Warren Wartell, Director of Administrative Services and Human Resources for the Faculty Student Association of Stony Brook University

Consider Your Career Building Goals in Everything that You Do:

  • Enhance your resume with career-related experience
  • Develop a litany of background information to cite examples in interviews
  • Build contacts for networking
  • Gain candidacy for a future position/ develop recommendations and referrals
  • Learn more about a chosen industry of field
  • Apply classroom theory to real-life situations
  • Become knowledgeable about general work functions and learn career skills/work competencies
  • Polish communications skills needed in the workplace:
  • Investigate/explore the role organizational culture  (Identifying and understanding the unwritten rules, power structure, assumptions degree of formality, dress codes, communication styles, and rituals characteristics of a particular workplace).

Fashion the Way that You Work from the Qualities that Employers Look for or Dislike

Positive Traits

  • Ask questions – intelligent and insightful ones
  • Follows directions well
  • Understands some gofer work is part of the job displays enthusiasm
  • Actively looks for things to do
  • Follows rules and regulations
  • Socializes appropriately with staff
  • Exhibits punctuality and dependability
  • Tries to understand the organization
  • Checks out all projects with supervisor
  • Avoids talking too much or too little – answering with just a “yes” or “no”

Negative Traits

  • Fails to ask relevant questions
  • Follows own agenda
  • Objects to routine work
  • Lacks energy and enthusiasm
  • Fails to display initiative: disregards rules/policy
  • Has poor interpersonal skills
  • Displays irresponsibility and lack of punctuality
  • Tries to jump in too soon without know the organization
  • Fails to keep supervisor informed about activities on a timely basis

Plan on Ongoing Method for Reflecting on Your Experiences

  • Raw experience leads to learning only when it is proceeded and organized in a structured way.
  • Reflection takes you beyond merely observing the daily events that occur at your internship or simply completely your assigned tasks and duties.  Reflection involves interpreting, analyzing, speculating, evaluating, comparing, contrasting, discovering, weighing, recognizing, and remembering.
  • Producing tangible evidence of one’s accomplishments confers credibility.

Methods to help accomplish this: Journals or Logs, Mentoring, Task Analysis Logs, Portfolios.

Proactively Maintain a Positive Experience

  • Request an organizational chart and fill in names and corresponding workstations.
  • When given oral instructions, paraphrase or summarize and carry a notepad to aid memory/organization.
  • Be personable – maintain a friendly, pleasant demeanor and a sense of humor.  Smile often and try to give no outward trace of tension, stress, or frustration.  Make an effort to talk to everyone at all levels.
  • Give your supervisor advance warning about changes in your work routine/schedule (lateness, absences) and provide sufficient notice regarding time and details.
  • Follow the organizational dress code.
  • Maintain a positive attitude toward pitching in and doing what needs to be done – it will not go unnoticed or unappreciated.
  • Don’t immediately attempt to impress everyone with what you know.
  • Find value in the mundane – make the most of the filing, inputting, and copying.  Look material over for clues to help you understand customer issues, the product line, what the company need to do to be more successful.

Dealing with Disillusionment: Tedious, Routine Tasks/Lack of Structure/Not Meeting Personal Goals

  • Read all the correspondence and memos you type or copy
    • Don’t file anything without reading it first. Ask yourself:
      • What value does this item have for this organization?
      • Who would be doing my job if I weren’t available? You can learn a great deal about the inner workings of an organization – its priorities and problems – by reading everything you can.  Spend some time reading a copy of your organization’s annual report or minutes from the last board of director’s meeting.
  • Pay close attention to the work environment and work conditions around you.
    • Take note of the topics and nature of the discussions (even office gossip and personal chatter over lunch).  You can pick up valuable information about office politics and culture this way. Carefully observe your physical surroundings.  What does it indicate about the organization?
    • Ask if you can attend staff meetings, conferences, go out on sales calls, observe seminars. Sit in on professional association meetings.
  • Find out about purchasing, inventory, budgeting, and the nuts and bolts of your organization.  Get a sense of where the organization fits into the world of work.
    • Confer with supervisors/other workers who can serve as role models, and act as sources of information.
    • Do some informal information interviewing, questioning co-workers about their career development in the field as well as future career plans.

Dealing with the Good and the Less-than-Optimal Supervisor

  • Relating to your supervisor is of paramount importance in having a successful internship work experience. Develop the ability to speak to your supervisor in an effective way, nonoffensive way about issues.  Keep supervisors apprised of daily accomplishments and progress toward the project and personal goals.  Cultivate a relationship.
  • Whatever your supervisor’s style or traits, assertively communicate with him or her on a regular basis.
    • Start with a positive statement or point of agreement.
    • Be specific about what you would prefer to have happen; suggest alternatives.
    • Provide a brief rationale or explanation.
    • Check out your supervisor’s or co-worker’s reactions
    • Express your thanks for the time and attention others have given to your issue
  • It is important not to fake an understanding that you simply don’t have.  It is important to ask: “Can you set some time aside to work with me or is there someone else who could help me?”
  • Minimize idle time.  It can leave a negative impression of you.  Ensure absent supervisors leave you assignments and that you have an up-to-date idea of the priorities.  Some options if the supervisor is unavailable:
    • Work on an on-going project.
    • Ask co-workers if they have something for you to do.
    • If you are left with no structured assignments,
      • Read company literature to learn more about the company.
      • Conduct information interviews with your coworkers; write notes in your journal.
    • Ask the supervisor at the beginning of each week to leave a list of things for you to work on.
  • Take negative feedback calmly, without going on the defensive.
  • Supervisors know it is impossible to learn without making mistakes.  Just apologize and think of a way that you can correct the mistake.  Assure your supervisor you will do your job best not to make the same mistake again.

Actions for Enriching an Experience that is not Fulfilling Your Expectations:

  • As employers often times don’t have a syllabus, schedule and list of requirements, you may have to seek out learning opportunities.  Engineer your own opportunities.
  • Enlist the help of coworkers and supervisors in building an understanding of the organization.  Come in before normal hours to discuss the business with supervisors/co-workers.
  • Take the initiative and suggest involvement in projects and activities that can be pursued from beginning to end.
  • Set up a field trip to corporate headquarters, read company literature, and think of interesting questions to research.
  • Enlist the support of your supervisor in devising ways to help overwhelmed staff while still providing opportunities for you to learn.
  • Volunteer to experience the full complement of organizational activities.  Request some time with other areas to gain some exposure and balance – emphasize the potential for improving the outcome of project.
  • Consult with your internship advisor or school career or employment services office for advice.


Login to Edit