An agriculture internship is meant to be beneficial to both the student and the employer. These kinds of internships are a way for students to gain experience in the workforce while providing the employer with a fresh, innovative perspective for a few months.
Many colleges require an internship for graduation, but if not, it is still beneficial to gain real-world work experience. If you are curious about why an internship might be beneficial, I encourage you to read this previous AGDAILY article. It helps to explain that agriculture students need more than an education, they also need experience. And this is especially true in the agricultural sector, where employers care about what you know, more so what you’ve done. The more diversified the resume, the more there is to show off to future employers.
Many agriculture companies and organizations these days have internship opportunities for young people. Some might be paid, while others are unpaid, but look for an agriculture internship that will help you broaden your understanding of the industry and help you advance your planned career — or even will help you realize that the area of ag you thought was a good fit maybe isn’t. The learning you get from agriculture internships can give you some important base skills while also guiding you on your path in the farming and food sector.
While in school I completed two internships and have managed numerous interns in multiple positions throughout my career. I want to provide a cheat sheet of how to get the most out of your agriculture internship — though this applies no matter where you are or what field you are pursuing.
1. Show up on time, all the time
The first tip is simple — be on time. It was instilled in me in high school that early is on time, on time is late, and late is unacceptable. As an intern, your supervisor will notice and appreciate if you are consistently early or on time for work, meetings, or project deadlines. Conversely, it will also be noticed if you are consistently late or leave early. You want to be remembered for positive qualities, and this is something simple that you can control.
2. Learn to talk on the phone
This might sound weird, but it is one of the most valuable skills that I provide my interns at my current job. So much work is conducted over email or text these days that picking up the phone when it rings or calling someone can feel uncomfortable. Learn to answer the phone professionally; always state the company name and your name. When transferring a call to a colleague find out the caller’s name and reason for calling to pass along. When calling someone, state who you are with and why you are calling in a timely fashion. If there is no answer, leave a voicemail with all relevant information. These are skills that are necessary in the professional world and can only be improved by frequent practice.
Another tip is what I call the three-email rule. If an email conversation goes for more than three emails between myself and the other person then I pick up the phone and call to clarify the situation. This saves both time and effort.
3. Ask for projects
The best way you can maximize the benefit from your internship and solidify your place in the “intern hall of fame” is to ask for projects or work. If you have completed everything on the to-do list thus far, go to your supervisor and inform them and ask what else can be done to assist. I would much rather have to pause my work and help an intern find something to work on than find them working on nothing.
The best interns I have ever had did this. At first, it can be a little nerve-wracking to say I finished everything you gave me, I need more. But it can be incredibly beneficial. On the same thought if you have a “dream project” that fits with the employer and your current internship position, then pitch it to your supervisor. The worst they can say is no, but your effort should still be recognized and appreciated.
This one goes without saying, but networking can be the biggest utilization of your time at an internship. This could be with the other interns, the employees, or those at other organizations you interact with. Any one of the people you meet could be a colleague, business partner, or hiring manager down the road.
Connections in the agriculture industry are incredibly important. Every position I have held in my career I owe to networking. Many internships allow opportunities for the student to network — for example, we host an annual trade show in the summer and encourage our interns to go and speak with the vendors in their free time. This has led to other internships and job opportunities down the road. Take advantage of all opportunities provided, even if it is just walking down the hall to speak to your supervisor or other colleagues.
Overall be open to the opportunities that are provided at an agriculture internship. Be willing to step out of your comfort zone, learn, make mistakes, and ask questions. Internships can be incredibly beneficial for students to learn exactly what they want or don’t want to do after graduation. Following these tips will put you well on your way to receiving a glowing recommendation letter at the end of the internship.
Michelle Bufkin Horton is a freelance communication specialist whose goal is to help producers bridge the farm-to-plate knowledge gap that exists with consumers today. She uses her full-time position as the Membership and Communication Director at the Arkansas Cattlemen’s Association to interact with producers and work on building that connection.