The Intern Stereotype
The Intern Stereotype. The self-fulfilling prophecy of the professional world. It occurs when interns are expected to produce few and unimpressive results and are therefore given tasks requiring almost zero effort to complete. Some interns are highly unmotivated, both expecting and deserving of mundane tasks. But when an employer assumes most or all interns are of this mindset and assigns work that is neither challenging nor intriguing, these mindless tasks can suck the life out of even the most motivated and bright-eyed interns.
The “Professional” Back Row
I’ve been fortunate enough to land numerous internships where I haven’t been “just an intern”, but I’ve also worked places in previous years where I felt the seventh grade version of myself could have produced the same results. When grade school students request the back row, they’re likely placed near or in the front row. In the professional world, you get what you ask for. If your work as an intern suggests you prefer a seat in the back row with no responsibility, you will likely be given a back row seat and little responsibility. If you are a determined intern and are undeservingly given the back row, don’t fret. Our generation is perceived as less apt to “pay our dues” than those hiring us as interns, and that’s probably what got you that seat. The good news? This stigma can also work to your advantage. Because we are expected to avoid paying these dues, those interns who do pay them will stick out. Those interns who pay their dues and also go the extra mile will make an even better impression.
No matter what row of the classroom your company puts you in, I’ve provided a checklist below to help you not only survive, but thrive in an internship.
1. Start Early, Stay Early
Arrive reasonably early to your interview and every interaction you have with your company thereafter. First day of work? Be early. Thirty-seventh day of work? Be early. If during your first few weeks you realize most of your coworkers and even superiors are consistently late, continue to be early. If you’re reprimanded for being reasonably early, there are much bigger problems with the company than neglecting to accommodate interns.
2. Use Your Words
Ask your supervisor when you are confused, tell an employee when you admire their work, and give real input when asked. You can only nod and smile so many times before people wonder if you’re a real live human being. On top of task completion, talking to others in your office helps you figure out if the atmosphere and culture of the workplace is a good fit for you in the long run. The line between introversion and annoyance is not a fine one. You can be friendly and outgoing without pestering others. Ask general questions in order to get to know those in your office. However, make sure to be social in an observant manner. There’s a big difference between making small talk and going on about your favorite TV show for 30 minutes.
3. Take On Extra Responsibility
Interns are almost guaranteed to get a mundane task here or there, to which there is only one appropriate response: deal with it. Instead of complaining, find out what you can do outside your normal tasks to make yourself valuable. This not only shows work ethic, but a job well done on a task you volunteered for may unveil to you and others you are a great fit in that department. Also, whether this is your first internship or your fifth, you might discover you have a talent and interest in something completely different than your major and previous experiences. You may not make the best (or any) hourly wage, but you are a professional. Even if there isn’t a great chance this company will have a spot for you when it’s all said and done, this is still a great opportunity to build skills and/or a portfolio. On top of that, your impressed employer may know of an opening perfect for your skill set with a company across town.
4. Don’t Act Like You Own The Place, Work Like It
There’s a big difference between trying your hardest to produce work like the full-timers and trying too hard to fit in without first earning your place. If you feel like you just need a little more time to perfect your work, then put in the time. Whether your internship is paid or not, putting an extra 30 minutes at the office without marking it on your time sheet can allow you to put the perfect finishing touches on your projects and tasks, even if no one notices you were supposed to leave at 2:00 p.m. And if someone does notice, you’ve most likely made a good impression with your work and your work ethic.
5. Create Your Own Feedback
In companies of all sizes, there is a possibility your colleagues and/or supervisor may be too busy to provide you with the feedback you need. If this is the case, it is up to you to generate that feedback yourself. Whether it’s ending an email by asking for comments on your recent work or going out of your way to stop by your supervisor’s desk, I can’t think of a single supervisor who would have considered the question “How am I doing on this project?” too demanding an inquiry. It’s much easier to communicate too little than too much, so make the effort other interns won’t and you just might get the job they don’t. When all is said and done, there are always going to be some aspects of your internship that are out of your control. Despite all your effort, you may feel like you are the only one trying to help you develop as a professional. No matter which end of the spectrum you’re at, you’re sure to make the most of it by following these steps. If you have any additional tips you think should be included, or any other comments, feel free to leave them below. Thanks for reading and be on the lookout for my next blog!