Some of your friends had rewarding internships that led to good jobs. Others wasted their time, mostly filing paperwork and getting coffee. How can you have the best chance of an excellent internship?

1. Would interning really be worth your time?
Talk to people in your target industry about the experience you’ll need. For example, if you want to be a process engineer, seek out companies with excellent processes. Be aware, though, volunteer positions or working in another country sometimes can fill the experience gaps more effectively.

2. Ensure you will learn valuable lessons.
You want to be sure there is an opportunity to learn the practical aspects of manufacturing or engineering. Get a list of your internship duties. That shows the company has thought through what you will be doing. A project with start and end dates shows there is some meat to your work.

3. Have clear goals.
If the employer does not give you a written contract or goals for the internship, be sure to ask for some. Or take the initiative to write your goals and get them approved. Then review them regularly to be sure you are on track.

4. Will you get paid?
Keep your eye out for a paid opportunity, even if it is a stipend. This can pay for books and other expenses. If the internship is not paid, you may need to get some paid work as well.

Don’t waste time fetching coffee. Find an internship that helps you achieve your goals.

5. Who will help you?
First, it’s important to know who you report to – your manager assigns your duties and will recommend you. She or he may assign other resources to you for assistance. Be sure to ask questions and take notes on the answers so you don’t keep asking the same ones. Join in social activities, like lunch, the company softball team, etc. You’ll meet more colleagues, and work will be more fun.

6. Put yourself in a position to be hired or given a good recommendation.
Research the company in advance. Check the web and talk to previous interns or employees. Show your dedication by getting in on time, if not early, and leaving when your work is done, possibly after 5 p.m. Volunteer for more assignments; they can be excellent learning opportunities and can give you a chance to show off your skills.

7. Find one or more guides within the organization.
An ideal guide understands the organization. He or she can offer insight into how things get done and help troubleshoot issues. Also, don’t forget about family members who have more experience.

8. What if there are problems?
So, you have done everything right, but you aren’t getting enough direction, or you just can’t seem to get along with someone. Don’t run at the first sight of trouble. This is an opportunity to practice important workplace skills.

  • Talk to your boss. She or he may have good advice for you; be prepared to be asked for your own ideas.
  • Learn from your coworkers. They have a lot of useful information. For example, they may know your problem person is a control freak and how everyone deals with it.

9. A chance for a full-time position.
Ask during the interview about full-time opportunities. Are former interns working there? Find out what it would take to get a full-time job.