Your mom has laid out your most dapper outfit, you’ve packed your first lunch since high school and you’re off to your first day at your new internship. You’ve read up on how to impress your bosses and the best ways to land a paying job after months of fetching coffees, but are you prepared for the low points of your internship? C.S. Lewis called experience the best and most brutal of teachers, but no one said that those experiences had to be your own. The following students have dealt with the challenges of internships and learned the hard-won lessons so you don’t have to.
Started From the Bottom, Now We’re (Still) Here
We’ve all seen the movies and heard the horror stories about internships. Whether you’re working for a wage or just for a slice of that priceless experience, chances are high that you’ll be stuck with the tasks at the bottom of the pile. Your well-educated, independent inner ego may baulk at this waste of your talent, but don’t take it personally. It’s not you – it’s the job description.“I often forget that I am just an intern. The work isn’t always exciting but you have to start somewhere, and you can only go up from there,” said Winona State University senior Stephany Elmer.
Keeping the Lines Open
Perhaps the introvert inside you violently rejects reaching out to your team members with questions. Maybe the thought of approaching the scary boss with the curling mustache and intimidating bolo tie makes you want to hide under your fold-out desk. “Communicate frequently with coworkers and leaders and ask to be involved in anything and everything. Sometimes I sit around bored because I convince myself that my teammates think I’d be uninterested in meetings or wouldn’t know what’s going on, when really I’d be willing to do anything that wasn’t just sitting at my desk,” said University of Wisconsin-Madison senior Leo Gallagher. As terrifying as socializing may be, connecting with your team is well worth the effort.
Remembering the Bigger Picture
Step one: Abandon your illusions of importance. Student interns are not the top priority in any company, anywhere. We can be beneficial, sure, but the time and effort it takes to train the new intern doesn’t always result in a return on investment for those doing the training. Be prepared to get tossed into the fray without ceremony, but take heart in your own capabilities. “I started out feeling like I’d been thrown into the deep end, where the only way to stay afloat was to process as much information as possible. It was easy to develop tunnel vision because I became more focused on the details of my project as I grew more comfortable. Taking a broader perspective is essential to learning the most you can during your short time at a company,” said University of Southern California senior Shirley Chung.
Eyeing the Prize
Careers are built around furthering the ends of a specific company or field. Internships are not. Rather, they focus on preparing the interns for life post-graduation while giving us a fighting chance when we’re finally thrown to the wolves.“Sometimes interns end up being the scapegoat, but no matter how awful the job, the manager, the employ or the pay, an internship is first and foremost an opportunity to experience different things. When it comes time to make big career decision, you already know the hours, the job and the company culture that fit your needs,” said Elmer.
Not Sweating the Small Stuff
College provides you with the freedom and power to determine how to approach your education. Internships take the infinite possibility of university life and squash it down to fit the workplace. It’s your responsibility to push on those boundaries, learn the limits and decide how you fit with them.“Everything is going to be new and frustrating. You’re not going to need to know everything. Go into it as a learning experience and try to find genuine interest in what you’re doing, or at least look at it from the perspective of testing the waters for your possible career,” said University of Wisconsin-Madison senior Jay Alexander.