Discover the Secrets to a Successful Internship

Longtime Abbott internship managers offer tips to help students stand out and make the most of their experiences.

Discover the Secrets to a Successful Internship
Reaching Your Potential | June 14, 2021

You did it! You landed the internship you wanted and you're eager to gain real-world experience. Now, how to make the most of it?

Consider advice from two Abbott veterans who regularly train and work with interns. Bill Hodges is a research and development manager and mechanical engineer who works on heart failure devices and Melissa Nicolli is a sales manager for adult nutrition products. Both have worked with Abbott interns for many years and observed the behaviors and traits that hint at — or shout — "Superstar!"

Hodges and Nicolli offer pointers to help interns get the best experience from their comprehensive 12-week terms.

Prepare, for Everything You Do
"Interns aren't expected to memorize everything about Abbott, but they need to understand the company, its specific business and how it serves customers," Hodges says. "Being confident about the fundamentals helps interns understand how they bring value to the team."

For Nicolli, knowing the company vision and mission matters, along with details relevant to an intern's team and role.

"Managers will notice if you're prepared for meetings," Nicolli said. "That means having an agenda and desired outcomes, defining action items and setting expectations. Interns can then make a good impression by following through with action items for managers or team members."

Melissa Nicolli, Sales Manager in Nutrition
Melissa Nicolli, Sales Manager in Nutrition

Communicate, Early and Often
Whether you're talking with your manager about a team project or preparing a presentation for managers and executives, Hodges recommends asking questions and raising concerns early enough so they can be resolved.

Nicolli says that offering a potential solution can be as important as asking questions. While an intern may not have the final answer, offering ideas highlights critical-thinking skills and a problem-solving mindset that's necessary for a STEM-focused career.

One intern held a roundtable discussion every two weeks to share project progress and highlight the impact and results, rather than waiting until the midpoint and end of their internship.

"It's showing their manager they're on track," Nicolli says.

Initiate, Showing Leadership
Exhibiting leadership as an intern might seem counterintuitive because you're there to learn, but it matters. It's important to take ownership of a task or project, work through it and complete it.

"Communicate along the way, ask questions, look for alternative solutions or options. Show that you understand the assignment," Hodges says.

Networking across the business matters, too, and interns have opportunities to interact with senior leaders and others across the company. Nicolli advises focusing on the quality of the connections and including your peers when networking.

Understand, It's Not All About You
Yes, you should have goals for what you'll learn and how the internship will help you grow, but it's key to grasp the value you bring to the company. This involves stepping away from student-centric thinking, showing improvements you made using metrics and "leaving a lasting impact," Nicolli says.

Hodges says the best interns own their actions and deliver on requests and expectations.

"They get in the mindset that this is something real, that they're ultimately helping to create products that help people and transform lives," he says.

Star Power Shines on All
While many Abbott interns tend to be high achievers who have done well in their academic careers, Hodges and Nicolli agree that sometimes an intern will simply blow them away. It's good news for Abbott and fellow interns because those standouts tend to inspire their peers and elevate the entire team.

"We had an intern who rolled out a new communications platform to our entire sales force," Nicolli says. "She trained over 200 sales reps and increased communication for Abbott across the country."

Hodges says his engineering interns are tech-savvy and have 3D design and computer-aided design skills that are directly applicable to Abbott's work. But, he says, they need to learn that designing a medical device component is just the start. After design comes documentation.

Hodges recently had an intern who did great technical work and then shifted to post-design writing, which wasn't as familiar for him. The intern developed these skills, creating impressive versions of protocols, instructions and standard operating procedures that medical professionals will ultimately use when the product launches.

"He absolutely made a big impact, as an intern. He was clever and flexible and able to adapt," Hodges says.

Bill Hodges, Mechanical Engineer in Heart Failure Devices R&D
Bill Hodges, Mechanical Engineer in Heart Failure Devices R&D

Learn, While Also Leaning Into Fun
In addition to preparing properly, communicating clearly, leading when necessary and remembering that an internship is a give-and-take experience, Nicolli suggests there's one more thing to keep in mind: Have fun.

Interns bring fresh perspectives and creative ideas, whether to everyday interactions or business matters, Nicolli says. And when those interactions are fun, they tend to be memorable.

Hodges encourages interns to be curious.

"People are always willing to share what they're doing," he says. "It's a goldmine here, and you can make as much of this internship as you want."