Building a foundation for employment: keys to a successful internship

These tips are designed to help young adults with visual impairment and other disabilities create successful, meaningful internships

Internships are excellent opportunities to gain hands-on professional experience. As internships are temporary in nature, they can be a great way to try out different career fields and discover what you’re good at and what you enjoy doing, all while building your professional skills and filling out your resume.

Internships are typically designed for college students, although there may be some internship programs for high school students and young professionals through your local disability services organizations or state agency. Additionally, some job training programs may offer an internship as a component of the program.

You’ve got the job. Now what?

Once you’ve landed your internship, keep in mind these seven keys for a successful internship:

  1. Set goals: An internship is your opportunity to learn, gain work experience and build your professional skills. Set SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound) goals for yourself about what you want to accomplish during your internship that will help you along your career path so that you can maximize this opportunity. Goals could include things like building a particular tech skill or meeting new colleagues. Track your progress regularly so you can be sure to accomplish your goals.
  2. Build your network: According to Forbes, at least 80% of jobs are filled through professional network connections. This means that establishing professional relationships with colleagues and managers during your internship is a critical step in your future career success. Introduce yourself to everyone at your internship and try to build positive relationships. If you’re not already on LinkedIn, create a profile and add connections. Even after your internship ends, keep in touch with your network via LinkedIn, email or informal meetings. 
  3. Understand accommodations: Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations to individuals with disabilities in the workplace. For many people with disabilities who are entering the workplace for the first time, navigating requests for accommodations and understanding the accommodations options open to them, can be confusing. Prior to the internship, talk with your supervisor and Human Resources department about what accommodations have worked for you in the past and have them ready for the first day of your internship. During your internship, take advantage of this chance to discover what accommodations you require. Practice and get comfortable advocating for the tools that empower you to be at your best at work. 
  4.  Maintain professionalism: Professionalism involves being reliable and delivering high-quality work. During your internship, be sure to be on time, not only for the workday, but also for meetings and completing assignments on time. Be sure that your work reflects your best effort: you’ve double-checked it and asked for help if you’re not sure what to do. Professionalism also often involves tuning into things like wardrobe and appearance, which might be difficult to observe if you are blind or visually impaired. It can be challenging to know if your workplace has a more formal or casual dress code, so do not be afraid to ask Human Resources staff before starting your internship or ask your manager once you’ve started working.
  5. Practice orientation and mobility (O&M): Navigating a new environment can take some time to learn. Be sure to work with your Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor to set up O&M training prior to starting your internship. Keep in mind that if you are using public transportation, paratransit or ride sharing, you should also learn your commuting route. There are numerous apps that can help you plan a route, track a route, and get visual assistance if needed. When learning the layout of your workspace, you may need to ask what areas of the office you’ll be working in in addition to your desk, conference rooms, your supervisor’s office and break rooms, for example. If traveling with a guide dog, you will want to know if they have a designated relief area for your dog.
  6. Ask questions: Use your internship to find out as much as you can about the field you’re interested in, career pathways and any industry lingo that you should understand. Talk with managers about what skills are required to work in the field, and ask coworkers about their jobs, education and lifestyle. Learning as much as you can about these topics will help you to ultimately decide if this career path is right for you. Additionally, be sure to ask questions about your tasks and assignments during your internship. It’s always best to be sure you understand expectations and how to do things correctly before going off in the wrong direction on an assignment.
  7. Get feedback: There may be some kind of final appraisal that your internship supervisor completes at the end of your internship. These evaluations can be a great tool for you to understand your strengths and areas for improvement. It’s a good idea to get regular feedback from your supervisor and coworkers along the way as well. Many workplaces are busy, so it may be difficult to get regular meetings with your manager, but try to seek out feedback at least at the halfway point and end of your internship. Use the time you have to work on your areas of improvement and continue to develop the skills that will help you in your future career. 

Sources: Forbes; Networking: It’s not what you think

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