13 Apr

internSummer is coming: coconut-scented sun screen, road trips, and… internships!

I have worked with many interns over the years. Sometimes the process has been wonderful—mutually rewarding. But (*sigh*), not always. Here are a two basic tips to help get your internship off to a great start, and to help you get as much as possible out of the experience.

1. Understand Your Position as the Intern.

I cannot overemphasize the importance of this first step. When screening candidates for an internship position, occasionally I get the feeling that the potential intern is interviewing me. Of course, when considering an internship you need to know the logistics of the situation, and you will have legitimate questions about the tasks involved. But the first question you should ask any potential employer is, How may I help you?

If an individual or company is looking for interns, it’s probably because they are overly busy and need someone to handle simple, time-consuming tasks in order to free up employees who have more pressing responsibilities. They are not looking for young people to mentor, nor are they offering an apprenticeship. This is an INTERNSHIP. Sure, there is an element of altruism involved, but it is unlikely that anyone would take on an intern simply for the sake of educating the intern. Show up with a list of “demands”, and you may as well wave a red flag. Instead, approach the situation realistically. Know and accept the facts: the work will more than likely not be glamorous, but, no matter what you’re asked to do—no matter how seemingly menial the task—you will learn something about the professional world, and the experience will ultimately be helpful to you. (Here’s an assignment from Professor Violet for any of you who are looking for internships: Watch The Karate Kid, and write 5oo words on the theme, “Wax On, Wax Off: It’s All Useful in the End.”)

Some schools require their students to complete internships for college credit. In other words, students are forced to find and complete internships for which they will be paid little to nothing, while simultaneously forking over tuition for the privilege. If this describes your situation and you see it as completely unfair, go punch a pillow or scream into your kitchen cabinet. Get it out of your system before having any kind of interaction with the people with whom you are hoping to work. Your school situation is not their problem. Be very careful not to let third-party resentment or bitterness color your working relationships. Over time you will forgive your alma mater, because if the course of study hadn’t forced you out of your comfort zone and into an internship (while a professor monitored the whole thing, on top of her already full work load) you never would have done it in the first place. One day you’ll look back and realize that whatever you learned during those six-to-eight weeks was valuable.

2. Work hard.

This should go without saying but alas, experience has proved, it has to be said. To maximize the benefits of your internship, throw yourself into any task that you are given. Always be on time, and deliver whatever you have promised. Take notes during meetings and follow up on them, but don’t get ahead of yourself and/or do anyone else’s job… that can actually cause a lot of problems. If you are working remotely, you will be monitoring your own progress, so be especially careful not to slack off. Your internship is probably fairly short, so you don’t have a lot of time to make a good impression, or to recover if you should happen to make any mistakes—so simply do what you’re told, and do it exceptionally well. Deadlines are sacrosanct, never to be missed. Be friendly and courteous. Remember, you are there to help, not to be helped.

On the off chance that, half-way through, the experience doesn’t seem to be living up to your expectations, don’t let your disappointment color your attitude. Stay positive and keep working hard. In general (and in keeping with Understanding Your Position as the Intern, above) try not to view your internship as a stepping stone to something better. If your goal is to be useful and to make a positive difference, rather than to get ahead, people will naturally want to help you get ahead. This may seem counterintuitive, but trust me, it’s the simple truth.

When I was in college I got a summer internship at which I worked extremely hard, and to the very best of my ability. That internship turned into a great job for which I was mighty well compensated. Through the internship and the job, I met a ton of wonderful people who helped me in a variety of ways throughout my career. Mind, it doesn’t always go that way, but you just never know. So be on your best behavior, and… be helpful!

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