As the summer is getting under way, a lot of students are either looking for or starting their first internship. This is a really exciting time for students; it's your first look into the "real world" of your chosen profession. This is what all those years of education have prepared you for!
As a female advertising and public relations major I was expecting my internship to be a mix between Mad Men and Sex in the City: finely pressed suits and strategic business planning combined with glamorous networking parties.
Boy, was I wrong....
The Truths of Being an Intern
- You might not get paid. Students often think they are entitled to monetary pay for their internship work. Technically, you're getting paid with experience, advice, networking contacts, and a possible foot in the door. Anything else is just a bonus. Keep an open mind about taking unpaid internships, they might work out better for you. Internships at non-profits are 99.9% unpaid, however these positions are unanimous for giving their internships more freedom when it comes to independence on projects, working hours, and more! Also, your commitment and working for free looks good to future employees by showing your love and passion for your career.
- Business casual for employees has taken on a life of its own to include sundresses, flannel button-downs (which I'm assuming replaces a dress shirt), flip flops, and even yoga pants instead of dress pants (I swear, I've seen it). Companies don't seem to be cracking down on their dress code out of fear of hurting their employees' feelings, discrimination, or even sexual harassment suits. "Everyone is doing it" is not a good excuse not to dress you best. Dress for the job you want, not the one you have. If you look like the college intern, that's all they'll see you as!
- Think of the most boring and most mundane aspect of your chosen profession. Cold calling? Answering phones? Filing papers? Scheduling meetings? And multiply that by 40 hours a week. Bottom line, interns are only with a company for a limited amount of time so employers are not going to go above and beyond to create a real position for you when you'll be back at school in a matter of months. Even if the internship position will just be immediately passed to a new intern, that's still someone they'll have to extensively train and that's not time in money well spent. You won't have much involvement with any monumental business strategy or planning. It's more likely that you will have involvement with execution of a plan rather than starting from the ground floor.
- Life in the corporate world moves slowly. As Millennials and college students, we're used to keeping up with a fast-paced life style and we are accustomed to changing roles and tasks fairly quickly (from esteemed partier to honors student, from class clown to aspiring business professional). However, in the corporate world there are a lot of roadblocks, red tape, and hurdles to overcome to get anything done, especially in larger companies. Everything has to be approved by dozens of people, committees, and organizational teams before it can become reality. Be patient. Stay on top of everything and nicely remind people when they fall behind on a task (non-intern employees are way more busy than you and their time is more precious than yours). Push hard but not too hard. Just understand that everything happens slower in the business world. Everything will work out with time.
- If you learn nothing else, you will learn how the real world works. The wonderful part about being an intern is that you'll work side-by-side with seasoned professionals. Whether they want to share their wisdom or not is another question. However, you'll learn about business/office etiquette, how to work with people on a professional level, polishing up your communication skills, personal time management, personal development, and corporate business models first hand. You'll get an overall view on how things work. These are things that you can't learn in the classroom that will be vital to surviving and being accepted into your first career job.
- The Devil Wears Prada is not a joke. There are internships out there where your supervisor will treat you like their personal butler--picking up dry cleaning, making coffee runs, cleaning their office, and maybe even taking care of their pets. They are clearly taking advantage of their position and you definitely do not have to stand for that. Try speaking with them about ideas you've come up with that will be of value to your learning experience with the company. Ask for permission to join a project team that is working on something you are interested in. Confront them about your job duties and how they are not in line with the initial job duties you received and how they are not of value to your education. In the end, you want to be proud of your internship. When people ask about it you want to be able to boast about your new-found skills and work experience, not how many venti drinks from Starbucks you can carry at once.
- Meet as many people as humanly possible. Introduce yourself and try to network on LinkedIn with as many people as you can at the company. Make sure they know more than just your name, try and work with them on a project, take special interest in something they do--connect with them so they remember you. You never know who you are going to need to contact in the future. On your last day, back up all your contacts out of your work e-mail system to use for further reference.
- Ask for a signed letter of recommendation on your last day. Letters of recommendation always come in handy when looking for employment after graduation. However if you want a year and suddenly ask for one when you need it, your previous employer might not remember you. They politely write you a letter and send it over but it will lack the personal qualities that you would have received had you asked for it while you and your work were still fresh in their minds.
- They're always going to say they want you to come back. Almost everyone I've talked to at the end of their internship has been so excited for their future graduation because their employer indicated they wanted them to come back to work for them. I'm pretty sure they say that to everyone. They've already spent time (and maybe money) grooming you for their company but chances are there are a lot more interns graduating then there are jobs available. But always apply for their openings, indicating that you were previously an intern, and always keep in contact with them! You never know what will come around further down the road!
- An internship is one-tenth the job duties of the actual position. Internships are great learning experiences but they are forgiving to the fact that you are also a student and have other things going on. They're not trying to stress you out. They just want to give you a taste. Once you are a salaried employee, you can multiply these job roles by 10 and then you might be close to the real job duties. More projects, more overlapping, more tasks, more team collaborations, more everything! Get ready!
Honestly, interning was one of the best experiences of my life. After I adjusted to corporate life, I was lucky to have supervisors that really took me under their wing: I shadowed everything they did as well as being able to run my own small projects. But it wasn't the glitz and glory that I had expected it to be. I worked hard and for free, for little or no recognition from my coworkers. I dedicated myself to their projects and even spent my own free time at home brainstorming new ideas and problem work-arounds that never saw life. Although my work might not have been valued by the company, I valued my time there and all the things I witnessed and experienced. That year of internships prepared me for the working world more than any part-time job or college class ever did!
Have you recently completed an internship? Or are you currently an intern? What are you quickly learning about your role in the company? We're eager to hear from you!