It’s internship season! Internships are a great opportunity to gain experience, build your professional networks, develop skills and make some extra money. They are really competitive, so well done for getting one. You're going to meet loads of people and learn something everyday. To be a successful intern, your job is to be curious. Be curious about how the business works and how specific people contribute to achieving the overall goals. Thus, you need to ask smart questions which show that you’re listening. I know that this can be very daunting so here is a list of ten questions you can ask.
When your manager or a teammate you have approached is talking about their work, you can jump in to ask what strategy they plan on using. This allows you to get an in depth description of how they go about their day-to-day tasks and projects so you learn their tricks. It also proves your curiosity to them, which means that they will be open to teaching you more and will impress upon them your eagerness to do the work.
You will be asked loads of questions as well and there is no shame in needing to clarify things. If you are in any way confused or looking to buy more time to think, ask the questioner to clarify or reiterate their question.
Do your homework and build an awareness of the organisation you are interning for, the market and industry it participates in and factors, events and conditions impacting them. Using this question allows you to evidence this research and knowledge while learning something.
This question allows you to do some learning about the evolution of the organisation. You may have some understanding as an outsider and this will be enhanced by their internal perspective. Asking questions like this could lead to a long interesting conversation.
Feedback is a gift and you must demand it. Asking this question allows you to find out what you need to improve on and what you already do well so that you can continuously improve. Be sensible. You can’t ask for feedback everyday but you should get it with enough time to make changes before you complete the internship.
Ask for homework. You don’t know what you don’t know so this is a good place to start. Your manager will point you in the direction of the topics and themes of greatest importance first and you can be more strategic with your learning.
You are bound to encounter initiatives and products and so on which may be new to the organisation. It would be both interesting and a strategic action to gain positive visibility to approach a person who was involved in that project and ask this question about the process. You’ll learn a lot about how the organisation thinks about and implements strategy.
If you are given a project or assignment to do, find out what they want. Your goal is to impress them. Find out exactly what kind of outcome they want. That way you can gain more clarity on the assignment and you know exactly what you’re working towards which will inform your actions.
Again, this is a question about gaining clarity. It is vital that you understand what is being discussed and its implications on other things. If you’re unsure, ask.
This is the question you really want an answer to, right? Whether you are hoping to build professional contacts, develop your skills or get a job offer, you want to be successful. In your first week or so, ask this of your manager, your buddy, if you have one, and any other teammate who seems interested in supporting you. They’ll share some top tips or offer you some encouragement. Either way, it’s a good question to have prepared.
I hope all of these questions help. Good luck with your internships. I’m sure you’re going to impress them by being yourself and working hard.
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Some of the questions included were adapted from the book Power Questions: Build relationships, win new business and influence others by Andrew Sobel. It has over 300 questions accompanied by parables explaining their usefulness. Give it a read if you can.