20 Ways to NOT be #ThatIntern
Part IV of IV
Two months ago I began this four part series, 20 Ways to NOT to be #ThatIntern, in hopes to save #JournoInterns from making some of the damaging mistakes that i’ve seen over the years. I also hoped to provide a little advice for achieving success along the way and please remember this advice is in no particular order – each number is as important as the others. Before I delve into the final 4 ways in which you can make sure that you are not #ThatIntern, let’s quickly review what we’ve covered so far – numbers 20 through 15, 14 through 10, and 9 through 5:
20. Don’t Be Cocky
19. Listen, Listen, Listen & then . . . listen some more
18. Don’t be a Know It All
17. Show Up
16. Keep it to Yourself
15. Don’t Play Politics
14. You’ve Got Time to Lean, You’ve Got Time to . .Clean
13. Life Isn’t All Rainbows and Roses
12. Ingenuity Goes A Long Way
11. OMG – What Are You Wearing?
10. Put It Away!
9. Get Involved . . . But Don’t Get Wasted
8. Know Your Grammar. You’re In College, Aren’t You?
7. You’re Only as Professional as Your Email.
6. Prove Yourself.
5. Smile & Be Nice!
Now, onto the final four….
4. In the Words of Billy Idol . . . Do “More, More, More”
Your internship might not make you rich, but it can bring many rewards to your career. Make the most of your experience and start out right on your career path. In order to do so, you want to be sure you that you leave your internship with new skills, a better understanding of your field, and tangible accomplishments.
Don’t cite the job description as your limits – use it as a starting point, but contribute and participate beyond that. Your contribution could be using your intellect and creativity to make an existing project better, or compose something totally outside of your job description.
Remember, future directors and CEOs of the world: Doing what is expected of you will get you a pat on the back and a decent recommendation. Being kick-ass, on the other hand, will get you a network of mentors and friends, a vast array of experience, a great leg-up on your future career path . . . and maybe even a job!
Be on the lookout for opportunities to further your education and develop additional responsibilities. Interns who identify office needs and ask to take on new challenges demonstrate the initiative and motivation for which companies are looking. If there is a project that interests you, ask your supervisor if you can help out. You can’t expect anyone to read your mind.
Are you enjoying the work you’re doing? Tell your boss. Want to learn something new? Politely ask someone — the worst they can say is “no.” Just make sure that you pay attention to your manager’s schedule when you ask. You don’t want to interrupt your boss when he or she is working frantically to meet a deadline.
Soak up as much as you can from your internship by looking for more assignments and projects if you are free. Down time is perfect for chatting with co-workers and letting them know that you are there to help. And by helping I don’t mean giving them fashion advice or filling them in on what happened last week on Grey’s Anatomy.
Consider yourself an integral part of the team, and with everything you contribute, remember that your involvement is playing a critical role in helping the team as a whole achieve their objectives. Celebrate your team’s successes, but also allow your fair share of the blame if things don’t go as planned. What goes around comes around. Know or seek out what needs to be done on your end to make your teammates’ jobs easier. There is a good chance that at this internship, or later in your career, they’ll give you support, too.
Motivated interns will want to do more than the minimum tasks assigned to them. When you see some additional tasks that can highlight your skills, or that would be a good learning experience for you, suggest that you might be able to do them.
But don’t propose additional tasks that would be appropriate only for a senior partner or department manager and don’t overstep any boundaries. Keep in mind that you’re an intern and your ultimate goal is to learn and provide as much value as possible–you’re a low person on the totem pole.
Interns are brought into companies of course to help accomplish goals, but also to bring in fresh ideas and fresh perspectives. If you want to be a fearless intern, you must be willing to try new things and even share your ideas. If you have an idea for a project your employer hasn’t thought of, make sure you speak up. Never hold back on brainstorming with the team or offering something new to the table. Interns often think they don’t have the ability to make a difference. But, the reality is, employers want their interns to express their ideas and contribute to the overall success of their organization. Your coworkers will notice your engagement and care for the company’s overall success.
However, interns coming into a company often think that if they were running the zoo, they could do it a whole lot better. And, in many cases, they’re right: New eyes often see things more clearly. However, companies do not want to hear how all their practices and procedures are inefficient and ill-conceived—least of all, from you. Even if asked, moderate your responses and do not be too critical of established practices.
Do get as much exposure in the organization as possible. Find your role and claim ownership of your projects. This will bring recognition to your value, as well as your work ethic. Have that one project, which you completely own.
It can be big or small, but it should be fully yours and add value to the team. Do the work, and if given the opportunity, get up in front of your manager and team members to present it. This is your chance to make your mark, especially if you’re only at the company for a short-term position like an internship. BONUS: more stuff to add to your resume and to discuss in those horrific future job interviews.
Approaching your work with enthusiasm is a good way to convince supervisors to give you bigger responsibilities.
Take advantage of every learning opportunity. Pay attention in meetings, ask questions, volunteer, or attend a lecture on something you’re interested in. Although your internship is an enormous learning opportunity, it’s a good idea to look for ways to learn new skills. For example, ask your manager if they’re involved with any professional organizations or if they can help you learn a new skill you’ve always wanted to learn. This is a great way to show your enthusiasm and eagerness to learn.
Remember, not every assignment that you’re given will be pulled off flawlessly. You have to realize there will be hiccups that might cause you to become discouraged. However, if you want to show you’re a strong intern, take on every challenge as an opportunity. This will show your boss your dedication to improvement and your desire to gain valuable life experience.
3. Father Time Can be a Pain in the A**
Employers want to work with interns who they are confident will follow through with tasks and projects. Show your employer you’re dependable by arriving to work on time, having the willingness to volunteer for new projects, and helping others. This doesn’t mean you have to say “yes” to everything, but make sure your actions show how committed you are to your position.
Displaying passion does not mean you spend hours in doing a job perfectly which you should have completed in an hour or which did not require perfection. You won’t get any brownie points for the extra sauce. If you have been asked to analyze something fast and present your findings, ask the purpose of the analysis. If the findings would be used to present to a client, then you can spend time and create a professional powerpoint presentation. However, if the project is just for internal progress discussions, you can create a simple presentation and use the remaining time for other assignments.
Not finishing an assignment shows your employer a lack of commitment and that you’re not a hardworker. Always finish your work before the deadline to show you have good time management skills and you’re committed to the job. Many interns, employees, and even professionals, underestimate how time-consuming projects may be. As a rule, people underestimate how long a task is going to take, so when you’re working out the timeline of a project, be generous in your time estimates. Making an impact is what’s important. So, be time-wise and don’t take on more than you can handle or spend too much time on simple tasks.
Take initiatives but don’t overdo it and don’t be afraid to say no. Sometimes, you’ll be asked to contribute on a lot of projects, but you need to decide realistically if you’ll have the time to focus on them and do what is already on your plate. Be forthright with managers and co-workers about your workload, talk to them about what you’re working on, and create self-imposed deadlines to stay on track. Taking on too many assignments and not being able to complete them, even with the objective of showing your boss how good of an employee you are, displays an intern’s immaturity and lack of of time management skills. Take initiatives, but be realistic in terms of the time that would be required to be spent on each assignment.
Do try to come in early and stay (a bit) late. If your boss says you’re done for the day, by all means, scoot out of the office and enjoy as much daylight as possible, but if you’re working on something important, it wouldn’t hurt to stay at work until you finish it. It’s always important to hand your boss your best work, and sometimes that means missing a few minutes of girls’ night. Putting in an extra hour here and there can go a long way to getting a good reference so that you can land your dream job, one day in the hopefully not so distant future.
At some point during your internship, your supervisor will ask what you would like to get out of the it and quite frankly, you’ll come off unprepared if you don’t have an answer. Know what you want, say it, and be honest about your goals. For example, one could say that they would like more writing experience and more “____” experience. This blank could vary between pitching, media relations, social media, spreadsheet development, feature writing, news coverage, sports coverage, or event planning experience.
On another note, setting up check-in meetings with your supervisor is always a good idea. This gives your supervisor an opportunity to tell you some things that you have been doing well and share some things that you could improve upon. Don’t be afraid to ask what you can do better, it shows that you’re invested in the internship and care about the quality of your work.
2. It’s Who You Know, Not Necessarily What You Know
Capitalize on the opportunity to meet as many new people as you can and pretend that every great person you meet will increase your net worth by $100,000. You will be surprised how many of these people you will someday work with, start a company with — or who will otherwise support you. In this day and age, your net worth is impacted significantly by your network. It’s not just the size, but also the quality of that network. Get to know your mentor, manager, and team members. It’s important to build relationships with your co-workers to help understand how they work and form a better working environment.
You can also gain valuable career advice as well as establish networks for future employment. Schedule one-on-one meetings, invite them to have a meal with you, add them on LinkedIn, have them look over your resume, and tell them about your interests. You never know where a little afternoon advice could lead.
Learn from your coworkers. Ask them about their own careers. How they got into the field? What they like about it? What they find challenging? What advice they have for you? Most people love to talk about themselves and will be flattered that you’re asking about their experiences. Best of all, it’s likely to make them want to help you.
You could even talk to your co-workers about your career plans, and let them know you’re open to advice, both now and in the future. They can be helpful by sharing job leads, recommending you for a job, and suggesting various career choices. Most people are happy to help, but they might not offer if you don’t ask.
And be sure to befriend fellow interns at the company if there are any. You’d be amazed at how many of your fellow schlubs will go on to distinguished positions in the industry in which you are going into.
Next, people at your internship or that you meet through your internship could be well connected and you definitely want to take advantage of that. You never know who you’re going to meet or where and when you’ll meet them, so it’s a good practice to always carry a business card with you. If you don’t have your own, make them at VistaPrint (which is super cheap and there is always a promo code available for it somewhere online). Make a serious and conscious effort to remember people’s names and collect the business cards of others. It can make or break you when networking.
Make sure you ‘mingle” at work social events (if you’re not supposed to be working. If you’re supposed to be working – then you better work).
Initially, networking and making connections with professionals may be overwhelming — but this is one of the simple first steps to get someone to know and like you. Even if taking the edge off with a few cocktails sounds tempting – refrain and re-read number 9
As an intern you need to realize that the success of your career is largely dependent on who you know and the connections and relationships you form. The older I get, the more I realize that most people land jobs simply because of who they know (and trust me – many aren’t the least bit qualified. It isn’t fair but then again, life isn’t fair).
Never take lunches alone. Always try to take your lunches with your colleagues or bosses. It gives the picture that you are integrating with the team. Plus, lunch conversations will help you to understand what’s going on in the company, what opportunities may be available, and who are the influential people.
However, never ever only talk shop during lunch. Make sure that you also talk about hobbies, movies, news, etc. Begin by seeing which topics your colleagues are discussing and then try to participate. Lunches are excellent platforms to showcase your general intelligence (without being boastful), interests and likability. Remember – take in more than you give or listen more than you talk.
Finally, use the experience to find a mentor. Is there someone in the organization who you’ve got along with and who you can ask for some career support? Don’t be shy to request it; my experience is that most successful people want to feel needed and to help others succeed. Most will be flattered.
1. Don’t Forget Your Internship Doggie Bag
Walking away empty-handed does nothing for your career. Even if your internship experience seems unforgettable or was one you’d rather forget, you may need to refresh your memory later on and keeping a record can help.
Write down all of your accomplishments and the projects you work on. Describe the purpose and guidelines of each project and your particular contribution. Ask your supervisor if you can keep a copy of any projects you work on – brochures, reports, etc. Remember, pictures are worth a thousand words, so allow your portfolio to do the talking for you by making sure to get a copy of anything you created or helped to create. Worse comes to worse, snap a picture of it with your smartphone. I always backed up anything that I worked on to my personal jump drive which guaranteed that I would have a copy for my portfolio.
Log in with a daily journal. Create a list of your daily tasks and chart your feelings about your work. Which tasks did you like the most? Which seemed the least interesting? Reviewing the list later can help you make future career decisions.
Lastly, definitely ask for recommendations and references at the end of the internship. It shows a lot of maturity and professionalism to go to a boss or coworker and ask them in person, too! Just make sure you ask people with whom you’ve built strong professional relationships that will speak well of you. And don’t give them a specific employer or person to write to; general recommendations will help you down the road when you’re applying for internships or jobs in the future. Don’t forget to ask for copies of any performance reviews if the company is the type to do that sort of thing – these can serve as great additions to your portfolio and resume.
If you have the moment where you ask for a reference or recommendation in your mind from the word ‘go’, it can shape how you approach the whole interning experience. What would you want to see written about you at the end? Depending on where you intern, that reference might be the only positive thing to come from your time.
So your internship didn’t end in a job offer. That’s OK. Don’t peace out on your last day and disappear into oblivion.
Stay in touch with everyone with whom you developed a good relationship. Send them an email periodically – don’t bombard them with emails, of course! But it can’t hurt to let them know what you’re up to a few months down the line – or meet for lunch when time permits. Keep them updated on your progress and career progression. Just because there’s no job today doesn’t mean one won’t be available tomorrow. People hire people they know. If they can’t hire you, they may know someone who can.
And sure, these people may be able to help you out with a reference or a letter of recommendation — but don’t let that be the only reason you keep in touch. These people spent weeks training you and teaching you valuable things and even if that matters nothing to you – they will see your ulterior motives and that is hurtful – to their feelings and to your job prospects.
Keep in touch because otherwise you’ll be just another intern who did their thing or a few months and put in their time . . . and that was it. Even if the whole experience was not the best by any means, keep in contact with people who played a major role in your internship. They will become part of your professional network that may be helpful in the future of your career.
There you have it, the top 20 Ways to NOT be #ThatIntern!
Thanks for joining me on this journey and if you missed any part of this series, you can always read it from the beginning by clicking here.
Feel free to pass this along to anyone that you know embarking on an internship adventure, thinking about it, or starting a new job. These tips can even be helpful and serve as reminders to those of us who’ve been doing this longer than they would like to admit.
Parting Words of Wisdom:
If you’re an intern chances are that you’ve spent (or are going to spend) tons of time and money on an education. Even if you’re not getting paid, it’s important to realize that actual work experience goes a long way to preparing you for your career. Think of your internship as an investment in yourself, just like your education. Even if you’re not getting the coolest work to do, try to make the best of it and offer insight where you can. If you’re working a summer internship it’s easy to throw in the towel when things get tough. But I’ll let you in on a secret to being happy in life: Doing almost anything to relieve short-term stress is a sure way to lead an unhappy life.
A little work will go a long way in terms of furthering your experience. Summer internships are about gaining learning experiences that will help you to better define your career goals. When you feel like you’re going to fall asleep on a pile of Excel spreadsheets, remember, you get to put this on your résumé! Make the most of it! No internship is a waste of time, even if it feels like one. If you spend three months slaving away in a banking position before realizing that finance isn’t for you, that’s OK.
In fact, that’s awesome, because it’s way better to try something as an intern and realize you hate it than to start a job in a field you don’t even know you hate yet. And you never know, a small idea you pitch to your boss could end up making your summer a whole lot more exciting!
Every internship, no matter the industry, teaches you important life skills — teamwork, networking, how to operate a coffee machine — that will help you be that much better at whatever field you ultimately pursue. It’s definitely great to know what you want to do with your life — but in many ways, it’s just as important to know what you DON’T want to do.
Finally, remember, it’s a strategic error to do every activity with an eye to parlaying it into a permanent position. And it’s an even worse error to keep asking the managing or hiring partner how likely it is that you will get a job at the end of the internship. It’s true that many internships can lead to a permanent position, either at this firm or at a neighboring one. However, that position usually doesn’t go to the candidate who has been mounting a summer-long campaign to get it (he or she is usually seen as overbearing and just downright annoying).
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