The Things Interns Say

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(CC) flickr // Quinn Dombrowski

It’s no secret that I’m not a fan of interns. By no means is it the concept of an internship. I had a great internship in college and got a lot out of my experience. It’s the caliber of interns that are coming through the door. An intern is brought into a company to learn about the business, gain hands-on experience and observe the inner-workings of a company in the industry they aspire to enter upon graduation. If effective in their role, interns can be invaluable to an organization and the staff which they support. Sadly, this isn’t always the case. Even worse, my recent experiences lead me to believe they are the exception. . .NOT the rule.

Was I hallucinating, or did you really say that?

If nothing else, I can say I have heard some great statements while observing and working with interns. Here are a few of my faves:

“I’ll pass” → I’m fairly certain I said, “Please do this.” The response of, “I’ll pass,” indicates not only a lack of understanding for what was asked of you but also a lack of respect for the company’s employees and a blatant disregard for the intent of your internship. I’ll pass on having you come back.

“I’m done” → This may be my favorite, if for no reason other than the context in which it fell. I asked an intern how they were coming with a list of seven tasks given to them the day prior. The response I received was, “I’m done.” While pleasing at first blush, I was dumb enough to ask for the end product of tasks five through seven. Much to my chagrin, I was told they had yet to be completed. Guess what? I’m done with your lies.

“Where is this?” → While I encourage interns to ask questions, as it is the best way to learn, asking me where something is located when you were given the information in both an email and Word doc from which it can be cut and pasted, and you are on your third iteration of the task, I would suggest keeping this question to your self. You want to know where it is? Read. What. I. Sent. You.

“I couldn’t find anything” → The internet is a vast resource. When asked to research something, do not even think of uttering, “I couldn’t find anything.” Particularly if you completed the task in under an hour. Last I checked research wasn’t a quick task. Research is an opportunity to display initiative. Look for what was asked of you and by all means look-up some related information and show some initiative. As for what I couldn’t find? Nice things to say about you.

What you don’t do speaks volumes

It isn’t just what interns of late have said that left a lasting impression. It’s what they haven’t done. That said, here is where I will switch from ranting to offering some more constructive advice.

Observe → When offered the opportunity to sit-in on conference calls, observe client meetings, participate in brainstorming sessions and contribute to team meetings, take the time to observe. Countless interns have passed through our doors and I have yet to witness one who did any of the above. Don’t be the rule, be the exception. Your initiative will not only speak volumes about your character and work ethic, but set a higher standard for future interns.

Participate → Not being given the type of task you are looking for? Be an active participant and ask your supervisor if you could have an opportunity to write that press release, draft that e-blast or search for graphics for that collateral. Even if your final product isn’t used, it is a tremendous learning experience and it shows your willingness and desire to participate in the process.

Speak Up → Don’t misinterpret this. I’m not saying to enter your internship with a plan for company domination and verbalize every thought that crosses your mind. But if you have a relevant idea, insider knowledge or an idea that hasn’t been brought to the table. . .open your mouth. You do not want to be the voice that speaks up after disaster strikes and says, “Oh, I knew their product was recalled. I used to buy it.”

Internships are what you make of them. . .don’t make them my worst nightmare

I am by no means trying to discourage students from interning. I am simply trying to manage their expectations for what lies ahead, and more importantly, make clear what they should not attempt to get away with. Perhaps these tips say it best:

  1. View your internship as an opportunity, not an obligation.
  2. Take initiative, not a mini-vacation.
  3. Build your portfolio (with permission), not a band of haters.
  4. Do what is asked of you, not your schoolwork on company on time.
  5. Set the bar high, don’t sit at it during work.

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  • http://twitter.com/KOttavio Kate Ottavio

    Nice D! Just sad I'm the only one who gets to witness the “Danielle Cyr fury” towards interns. ;)

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  • http://twitter.com/tjdietderich TJ Dietderich

    I've been lucky enough to have really fantastic interns, and unlucky enough to have really disappointing ones. It's so true that interns get what they give and vice versa.

  • @jaykeith

    A few years back, there was a snowstorm north of Boston, where I was working at an agency. This tends to happen in the northeast, it's just not a big deal. You might be late, but you're still expected to show up, unless of course it's a state of emergency, etc. So I had made my way into the office, and around 9:30 a.m. (I was already IN the office) I got a call from one of my interns, who told me, “I just went outside and cleared all the snow off of my car, so I'm not going to be coming into work today.” Ummm, what? You've DONE the hard part, clearing off your car, why wouldn't you come in!?!?! “I just don't think I can make it,” was the response. I hung up the phone, obviously disgusted and shocked. Needless to say she wasn't offered a job when time came for her internship to be “up.” It's the little things, you're right. It's the things you don't do, like show up when everyone else does, that can make all the difference.

    Oh and to top it all off, it was a paid internship, so not only did she not show up, she just gave up the day's pay. I'll just never understand that.

  • Marie Baker

    Great post Danielle! I have to say nothing bothers me more than when an intern (or assistant for that matter) lies. Not only does it make that individual look bad, but I also would never be able to trust them moving forward. Be honest. I might be mad at you initially, but at least I can respect honesty.

  • http://twitter.com/keithprivette keithprivette

    Great post. This is really good advice not only for interns but people starting a new job or new department. It is all about the actions and attitude have doing them. Words are meaningless without action and sometimes that action is asking for help when you dont have all the answers.

    Thank you for posting. I am actually going to try some of this advice, we all could use a reflection moment even if we are not interns

  • Elisha Velez

    Danielle,
    This is my first visit to your blog and I have to say, I can't wait to read your next post. I enjoyed the topic and find your writing refreshing. I am currently an intern, please don’t let that stop you from reading more, but I understand your dislike for interns who treat their internship as anything less than an amazing opportunity.

    I appreciate your do’s and don’ts for interns as well as your humorous recollection on the amusing things they said. My co-workers got a kick out of it too.

    Thanks for the mid day humor, I look forward to future posts.

    Best,
    Elisha

  • marianschembari

    So funny! I love this post :-) I would, however, like to point out that unfortunately many companies take advantage of the free labor. While I'm too young to have had an intern myself, I've been the brunt of really shitty (but also some very awesome) intern “supervisors”. While maybe interns are there to get your coffee or clean your toilets (yes, I had an internship where that was part of the job), often supervisors use them as free personal assistants in exchange for a snazzy company on your resume rather than giving students a change for an excellent learning experience. Shame, really.
    Who knows, maybe I've been one of those horrible interns myself (though I'd like to think not), so who am I to talk?!

  • http://marianlibrarian.com Marian Schembari

    So funny! I love this post :-) I would, however, like to point out that unfortunately many companies take advantage of the free labor. While I'm too young to have had an intern myself, I've been the brunt of really shitty (but also some very awesome) intern “supervisors”. While maybe interns are there to get your coffee or clean your toilets (yes, I had an internship where that was part of the job), often supervisors use them as free personal assistants in exchange for a snazzy company on your resume rather than giving students a change for an excellent learning experience. Shame, really.
    Who knows, maybe I've been one of those horrible interns myself (though I'd like to think not), so who am I to talk?!

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