Real Life Lessons: How to Lead through Interning

By: Abigail Nutter

There’s a secret to being successful in leadership that many people should learn before graduating: the importance of internships. As of right now, the beginning of my senior year at Rutgers, I have interned six times and participated in two independent studies. Some of the most important lessons learned in college weren’t taught within the four walls of a classroom: they came from real-life application through internships and independent work.

I currently serve on the 2013-2014 Executive Board of Cabaret Theatre as Marketing Director. When I ran for office last spring, I had to write a speech about why I would be an effective and qualified leader. I realized that because of my experiences as an intern, I have gained four qualifications of leadership that every student leader should know.

These are secrets worth sharing, trust me.

1. Take Initiative

Internships, at least the ones I have participated in, are filled with time gaps. You’re given a task, and if you finish it efficiently, you’re stuck sitting and waiting for your next project. Take initiative and create your own project! As a leader, if there is something you believe in that you want to expand, don’t sit around and wait for permission. Act! If you’re interning as a social media intern (four times, baby!) and you happen to love blogging, ask to take on a side project of building a blog for the organization.  Or if you’re interning and there is one skill you need more practice in, like how to be influential on Twitter, ask someone at your organization to help you. You are taking the time out of your schedule to gain real life experience; it is worth it to put it to good use.

2. Be Professional

Show up on time. Don’t waste hours on Facebook and Tumblr when you should be doing your work. Dress appropriately, and keep your phone on silent in your bag. Draft yourself an email template in order to remain professional in emails at all time. Small changes can make the biggest of impressions, and professionalism never goes out of style. And although it can feel as if, because of your low status as an intern, you may go unnoticed, I can promise you, people take note of who is professional and who is not.  As a leader, professionalism is essential for maintaining confidence in your skills and abilities.

3. Have Respect for Your Team:

This isn’t necessarily classified as “sucking up”, but rather get to know the people you are working for. Fine-tuning your communication and interview skills as well as networking will help immensely in leadership. Make people feel that you care about what they are saying and that you are taking it seriously. Listen attentively during meetings, take notes, ask questions, and make comments when asked. When someone gives you a project, have the courtesy to complete it on time. There is nothing worse than a leader that says they will do something and has absolutely no follow through.

4. Always Workshop and Rework Your Resume:

You will never know when an opportunity will arise where you will need to hand over your resume. Ask your bosses at an internship to look over your resume and workshop it with you. When in leadership, you’ll want to have the experience to back up your convictions and your self-confidence as a leader will improve as your resume does. Keep it clean and succinct, as well as informative. Go for internships that are not necessarily what you might not have considered before. New experiences bring new lessons and new opportunities that can be invaluable in future leadership.


1002406_10151673810536251_1622907592_nAbigail Nutter is a senior, double majoring in Journalism and Media Studies and Women’s and Gender Studies. She is the Marketing Director of Cabaret Theatre on Douglass Campus and is a member of the Douglass Residential College Global Village LEAD House, a living-learning community focused on women and leadership.


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