The Things Interns Say

South Asian bookshelves
(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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