Congratulations! You’ve managed to land a summer student job or internship. Whether you’re a marketing intern at a consumer goods company, a summer law student at a big firm, a student at an investment banking, or an intern at an accounting firm, you’re probably wondering one thing: How do I prepare for my summer internship?

Fear not. Here are a few tips to help guide you during the course of the summer and put you on a path towards being hired back full time.

While the tips included in this article are written specifically for students starting summer jobs or internships in Toronto, they apply equally to students and interns across Canada.

1. Always Add Value

As smart as you are, you don’t have much substantive knowledge that is directly applicable to your job. You’re still young and inexperienced. This means that you will be limited in terms of the substantive work that you can do on a project. Typically, the heavy lifting will be left to an analyst or associate with more experience than you. But you should still do the best you can to add value to make your team members’ jobs as easy as possible.

How you can make your team members’ jobs easier is context-specific. Consider, for example, offering to help with the administrative parts of the file, or doing the first draft of a document. Even small things add value, like pointing out spelling mistakes, flagging deadlines and managing emails. These tasks, while not the most exciting, will save you team members from doing them (or forgetting to do them). If you can reduce the amount of work that a team member has to do, then you’ve added value.

2. Be Dependable

If you take on a project, make sure you get it done and get it done on time. The analyst or associate who assigned you your work is relying on you. If you don’t get the project done, then the analyst or associate will be forced to put in extra work to compensate.

The analyst or associate giving you work expects you, as the summer student, to be flexible. You’re expected to adjust your personal schedule as required. This may mean that you need to cancel plans at the last minute or work odd hours.

Working at Computer

Remember that your summer internship is only around three months long. This means that, even if you have to cancel plans to make time for work, you can see the light at the end of the tunnel. A good tip is to re-frame how you view summer before starting your internship. Don’t think about the social events and holidays you can enjoy during the summer; instead, focus on your internship and doing your best during that internship. Treat free-time and down-time as a bonus, not a given.

3. Do the Grunt Work

You are the student. You’re expected to do the work that no one else wants to do, including photocopying and binding, running documents between businesses, and even doing a coffee run (yes, that happens).

Don’t think that a task is “beneath” you, and don’t complain about it. This work, while seemingly trivial, lets the higher ups on the file focus on higher value tasks. If grunt work needs to be done, then you should volunteer to do it. The higher ups on the file will appreciate you doing this work and they will remember your help.

4. Familiarize Yourself with Microsoft Word

Microsoft Word should be your best friend. While you’ve likely already used it at university, you probably aren’t using it to the full extent of its capabilities. Consider taking an online Word tutorial so that you can be more efficient and productive on Word while at work. For example, some standard Word tools that you should know include the following:

  • “Cross-reference”, which lets you add paragraph and footnote references that automatically update (perfect for legal memos with lots of supras)
  • “Spelling & Grammar”, which can proof your document
  • “Table of Contents”, which automatically creates a table of contents based on your headers
  • “Styles”, which let you create master typographic styles and headers

You should also start using keyboard shortcuts instead of your mouse. This will make you quicker and more efficient. Some keyboard shortcuts include:

  • Ctrl+A = Select all in a document
  • Ctrl+C = Copy text
  • Ctrl+P = Paste text
  • Ctrl+S = Save the document
  • Ctrl+O = Open a new document
  • Ctrl+Alt+F = Insert a footnote
  • Tab = Increase indent / move to the next cell in a table
  • Shift+Tab = Reduce indent / move to the previous cell in a table

You can find a full list of keyboard shortcuts here.

5. Read the News

If you don’t already, start reading the news to stay up-to-date with current events. Whether you’re working in business, finance, law, accounting or something else, the work you’re doing is dynamic, every-evolving and closely linked to politics, business and current events. If you want to be a good student — and eventually, a good banker, lawyer, accountant or business professional — you need to know what’s happening around you.

Man reading newspaper

Reading the news has two key benefits. First, it will give you something to talk about with your colleagues. Bay Street professionals love to make small talk about recent events; if you know about these events, then you can more easily participate in conversations. Bay Street professionals also love to share their opinions, most of which are informed by what they read in the news. They expect you to chime in with opinions of your own.

Second, reading the news will help you be better at your job. Regardless of the field in which you work, you will be impacted by by politics, business, and current events. If you can understand the broad trends and events happening around you, then you can better structure a corporate transaction, understand the rationale behind a client request, or learn about how the public views your industry. You can also go one step further and delve into the news related to your specific area of work. This will help you get a feel for where things are going and expose you to recent developments.

Popular news outlets for local, political and business news include the Globe and Mail, the National Post, the Toronto Star, the Vancouver Sun and the Montreal Gazette. You can get good international business news in the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, and Reuters, among others.

Conclusion

Being a summer student on Bay Street is both exciting and daunting. If you approach it one day at a time, and put in practice the tips noted above, then it should be a rewarding experience.

There is no doubt that your summer internship will be challenging. But it will also be a great training ground where you can really ramp up your legal skills. Chances are, you’ll come out of your internship shocked with how much you’ve grown!

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