And that’s a great thing. No, don’t roll your eyes. Really, it’s a great thing.
A good internship will round out what you’ve learned… in all that theory…with some good solid practice. And it’s amazing how different things can seem in reality from the delightfully artificial world of academia.
I remember one bright young intern coming to see me on her very first day telling me that she was ‘told’ she had to go to client meetings and write strategies – which was awesome and I welcomed her help. I started to brief her.
At the time I was working on aortic dissection for a medical devices firm. She declined that project. I also offered her the chance to work on funding issues for kidney dialysis and she declined that one too. From memory I offered her another project that was just as chunky as the previous two – upon which she smiled and said that she’d just help out where she could, went back to her desk to resume media scanning/clipping.
She ended up being a great intern, who learned heaps whilst she was with us and that I sought to hire when she finished her course.
But as an intern she brought little to the team’s table. Why? Because she had nothing to really contribute. Sure, she was willing, could write some – but that was about it. She had no real experience, no understanding, no level expertise at all – that requires time in the chair.
Don’t get me wrong – she was a great girl. As have been most of the interns (guys and girls) I’ve had the immense privilege to mentor over the last 20 years – some of whom have gone on to achieve amazing things in their careers (and their personal lives). Many of whom I’m still in contact with.
And here’s what an intern needs to know
There is an immense cost to the person doing the mentoring that interns are rarely aware of.
When you intern, everything has to be explained – where things are, how we do things, why we do things, why we don’t do it the way it was taught at uni, who’s who, what the clients like and don’t like, how our systems work, how to make phone calls overseas (yes, I’ve had to explain that), how we work as a team, what real working life is all about.
And the mentor has to assign you something you can actually do each day – and that takes significant thought. Usually time that your mentor doesn’t have. And then the mentor has to review the work, give feedback and encouragement. Again – time they don’t have.
So when interns don’t turn up, or want ‘shift’ changes to accommodate their social lives, or spend their day texting on their phones, or hanging out on Facebook or complain the work they’ve been given is menial – that’s offensive.
Better that you be doing the menial stuff than your mentor/boss – we’ve all done, and still do it. If you remember nothing else as you begin your intern career – if you can make your boss/mentor/clients’ lives easier – you get to work another day and over time you become indispensable. But once it starts getting hard to work with you, it can be a career limiting move.
That’s not to say that time off or a measure of flexibility isn’t allowed. Time for exam study is an absolute must – because let’s face it, you actually want to graduate from uni – right?! But it’s to be used sparingly.
Please remember, as an intern, you’re not there doing anyone else a favour except for yourself.
So if you want to get ahead in your career through an internship, show you’re committed to your internship because what goes around comes around. Do more than is expected of you.
If you commit to an internship, show up, listen, be prepared to muck in and do whatever is necessary and stay the term you’ve agreed to (unless your internship is all about coffee and photocopying – then maybe find something else – although you’ll be surprised what you learn from simply being in the offices of industry – and that’s the stuff the text books can never teach you).
PS: Never steal from your intern hosting company – ie: their IP.
Remember that any work you do belongs to your hosting company. It’s not yours to take or share as you see fit. Often what you end up producing really isn’t your work anyway. Rather you’ve been significantly coached to produce it and if you showcase it to future employers (especially strategy documents), you’ll have no idea why they were written like that and if anyone asks you to explain it – you’ll have a devil of a time and look dopey.
If you want to take an example of the work you were involved in, ask first. Most firms will gladly say yes. But secretly emailing yourself 30Mb of files on your last day is an absolute no-no (and it can land you in very deep trouble both legally and educationally too).
If you’re desperate to get some really good solid industry experience and you’re prepared to commit to a six month internship and you’re not afraid of hard work and going home tired, drop me a note explaining why we should talk. You might also like to read a real life intern’s account of working with us.
In an upcoming post, we’ll look at what you might actually get out of being an intern (ie: the benefits for you).