Before You Start an Internship – Know This!

Eight KIPP alumni share what they’ve learned about interning this summer to help their peers prepare for their first internship.


Kei-Sygh Thomas, Drew University rising junior, KIPP New Jersey Alumna

As a KIPP New Jersey alumna, I am very familiar with the concept of “To and Through” college. I am a rising junior at Drew University so that means that I’m halfway through! (Woohoo!)

To help me succeed over the next two years – and bridge the gap between college and career – I chose to do an internship this summer. Summer internships are a great way to gain valuable work experience, apply skills that you’ve learned in class, and learn more about a prospective industry.

This summer, 16 KIPP alumni from across the nation are interning at the KIPP Foundation. While we have the right technical skills, the ins and outs of thriving in a professional environment are fairly new to us, and we are learning and adapting in true KIPP fashion. In fact, we’ve learned so much that we decided to write a blog post to help future interns. Read on to find out what we’re learning:

1. If We Need Help, We Ask
I was always nervous to ask my supervisor questions when I didn’t understand the project – I didn’t want to risk being perceived as a bad intern. This backfired and caused me to make a HUGE mistake one of my projects. The 3-4 days I spent working on this project were wasted. Now I make sure to ask if I have any questions on a project to avoid wasting precious time.

2. Computer Knowledge is Power
Every office requires work on the computer, so it helps to familiarize yourself with computer basics. Even simple keyboard skills can go a long way. Sometimes I use typing skills websites to strengthen my speed and accuracy with the keyboard. It’s also a nice break when you’re feeling tired — these speed tests are like a game.

3. Communicate Like a Professional
The rule of thumb is to always sound more formal than usual (LMK, LOL, TTYL won’t fly in an email to your manager!). When you’re starting off in a new environment, you want to present yourself in a professional way. You don’t want to start off with a casual email, and then realize everyone else is writing formally.

Also, check your emails thoroughly before sending. Make sure your message is clear and error free. Having said that, do not consume your time with trying to draft the perfect email. If you find yourself furiously revising and editing, take a break from the message and revisit it in a few moments. Finally pressing “send” on one of your carefully crafted emails is a nerve-racking yet refreshing feeling.

4. Speak Up!
Do not be afraid to voice your opinion. Working with very influential people may be intimidating, but your perspective is unique and part of why YOU were chosen for this internship, so make it count!

5. Feedback Rocks
When someone offers you feedback, take it! It can be disappointing at first to receive constructive feedback, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore it. You may see how the feedback mentioned can improve the project that you’re working on. Sometimes when someone says they have feedback for you, it is positive! So don’t be afraid of feedback; embrace it!

Also, be sure to record the feedback that you receive. Take notes during the conversation so you can refer back to it and put the feedback into practice on another project. The objective is to improve so that you can receive different feedback next time. Growth is the goal, not perfection!

6. Your Manager is a Person Too!
Do you remember when you realized your teacher had a really cool life outside the classroom? Well, it’s the same for coworkers. They, too, have lives outside the office. It doesn’t hurt to ask coworkers how their weekend was, or if you’re new to the area, suggestions to where you should explore. It may seem awkward at first, but it’s a great way to build connections! I would much rather bond over the perfect chocolate chip cookie than a project that requires extreme attention to detail.

It’ll also help when you’re asking for a recommendation later – they’ll be able to speak on behalf of your character in addition to your work ethic.

7. Find Creative Ways to Practice
Incorporate the skills you’ve learned from your internship into your routine. During my first internship, I became familiar with Microsoft Excel and learned shortcuts, sorting, creating graphs, and conditional statements. Instead of squandering newly acquired skills, I continued to practice by creating Excel sheets to track my spending.

Gaining internship experience is a great way to build skills and network with professionals in your prospective career. While tips and tricks are helpful, true success is a state of mind. If you are open-minded and hungry to learn all that you can, everything above will be second nature. So relax. You’re a KIPPster, you got this!

Thank you to all the KIPP interns who contributed to this post:

  • Tameesha Harris, Finance, KIPP New Jersey, Rowan University ‘17
  • Shakeema Blanco Gonzalez, KSS Operations, KIPP NYC, Georgetown University ‘17
  • Lisa Huo, Knowledge Sharing, KIPP Bay Area, Middlebury College ‘17
  • Kemi Jacobs, Research Evaluation, KIPP Philadelphia, Oakwood University ‘17
  • Ankoma Mitchell, Data & Operations, KIPP NYC, Fairleigh Dickinson University ‘17
  • Krysty Shen, KSS Operations, KIPP Bay Area, Middlebury College ‘17
  • Sydnie Thomas, Legal, KIPP Bay Area, Baylor University ‘18


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