Are you an intern or a practicum student in your field?  At the beginning of this time, it can be exciting…learning new things, getting your first taste of the real world, and what your future career might look like.  It’s easy to get swept up into the moment and miss out on vital aspects of this experience.

Some helpful advice to those out there who are getting ready to enter this phase of their life.

  • Try to gain as much experience as you can.  If you have to choose between two places, pick the one that will give you opportunities to try new skills or that will challenge you. It may be tougher “in the moment” but it will pay off years down the road.
  • Know the expectations.  One of your first questions in your interview, or on your first day should be, “What do you expect of me?”  This gives you the baseline of where you need to be.
  • Professionalism. Period.  I shouldn’t have to mention this, but, yes, I do.    Dress professionally, speak professional, act professional.  This includes in person and anything you have on social media (facebook, twitter, instagram, etc)  Find out, what those in your field wear. If it’s steel toe boots, make sure you are wearing steel toe boots to the shop each day. If it’s a suit and tie, invest in a few suits! Mints, deodorant and clean clothes make a difference.   Language is another way we communicate, be verbally respectful (and bite your tongue)  of those around you and cultures that are different than you.  The company’s human resources department may not extend a job offer to you, if you are going to cause them headaches or even worse open them up for a possible lawsuit.
  • Make the most out of the time you are given.  All too often I see interns who are focused on “hours” vs experiences.   Come a little early, stay a little late. By coming early, you never run into the problem of missing a meeting or not being prepared for a situation that might arise at the beginning of your day.  By staying late, you are giving yourself time to finish what you’ve started, and prepare for the next day. You get one internship, make the best of it!
  • Keep organized.  Remember trap-a-keepers from the 80s and 90s? Get something like that, or a binder, or a multipocket folders to keep all of your “stuff” together. Whether that’s forms you frequently use, your calendar, or just “stuff” you need to have access to frequently.  Write everything down, and keep it in one place!
  • Know your procedures!   What reports will you be expected to fill out, and when do they  need to be filled out?   Better to know this information in advance, rather than wait for the actual emergency or situation to occur.  In our office, our counselors need to know the self harm/suicidal procedures, child abuse/neglect hotline procedures, etc.  In a marketing office you’ll need to know where to find specific images or what you can use/not use. As a student teacher do you know what happens if a child has a medical emergency or a natural disaster happens?
  • Know the culture of the company, agency, school or organization that you are at.  What is basic history of the location, who are the “important” people?  Does your company have a reputation for something?  Is your school passionate about a specific cause?   This sounds simple, but all too often organizations interview potential interns who don’t know a lot about where they interviewing at.  How do you know you want to intern at a location if you don’t know anything about them?
  • Once you’ve landed the position, work before it starts.  Research the clientele you will be serving, or the projects you’ll be working on.   Be ready to walk in the first day and hit the ground running!
  • Get involved.  You get one opportunity to be in a practicum or internship, take full advantage of the opportunity and get involved.   Join a committee, volunteer to be at school event, help out with something that is outside your job description. This will give you more insight into the career field.
  • Ask questions, request feedback. How else will you learn, if you don’t ask?      Write down concerns, or problems you come across!  When you have your supervisor’s one on one attention, you can rattle off your list.  By writing down your concerns, this allows you to receive valuable information rather than forget that you had the concern in the first place.
  • Start building your resources and networking opportunities.   If you don’t already have a drawer at home for resources, you should start this.  Start collecting names and resources you’ll need to be successful in your career field. Your practicum or internship will be a great opportunity for you to do so. Jump at the opportunity to meet someone new. You never know role that person will be in your life, in the future. They could be the one who hires you for your first job, or who helps give you a resource that saves an account, or that will lead you in the right direction with an issue that you are struggling with.
  • Set goals for yourself, what do you hope to obtain from your internship?  While you may already know your organization’s expectations for YOU, what are YOUR expectations for yourself?
  • At the end, during an exit interview, ask your supervisor whether or not they feel you will be a good fit for the field. If so, what route they recommend you take.  If not, perhaps what you could work on or what their recommendations would be.  Having the opinion/advice of someone who is in the field, who knows you, and your work ethic is more valuable than you, as learners give it credit for.

I hope this list will help practicum and internship students maximize your transitional experience.   Feel free to ask any questions you have in the comments section below.


Jennie Wilson is a child and adolescent therapist. She holds the credentials of a Licensed Professional Counselor, National Certified Counselor and a Registered Play Therapist-Supervisor