© Ramin Talaie/Corbis
Ursula Burns, Xerox
Raised in the New York City projects, Burns says her Catholic school education prepared her for three careers: "nun, teacher or nurse." Unsatisfied with her options, Burns enrolled at what is now the NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering, where she landed a summer internship with Xerox. In 2009, Burns became chairman and CEO of the company, making her the first African-American woman to run a Fortune 500 firm.
Lesson: Work hard and ask smart questions when interning.
One reason Burns scaled the ranks is because " she was enormously curious," Wayland Hicks, a senior Xerox executive who hired Burns as his assistant, said in an interview with The New York Times.
Asking questions, particularly those that clarify what goals and expectations the supervisor has for the intern, is a great way to shine during an internship, says Holly Fox Getchell, director of employer relations for the University of Georgia Career Center. A close second is listening.
"Interns should listen carefully to details about assignments, but also things like office policies," Getchell says. "By listening carefully and taking good notes, I feel like they can avoid making some mistakes that may make them look bad, or even worse, make their supervisor look bad."