If you are one of the fortunate students who has landed an internship for the summer, congratulations. You have an opportunity to learn some practical skills in your field of study, add a valuable piece to your resume, and possibly make a little money (if it is a paid internship.)
There is a good chance you have never been an intern before, so you are not exactly sure what to expect. So let us fill you in – with both the good and bad news.
Understanding the Full Time Employees’ Perspective
For most FTEs (full-time employees), interns are viewed either as a temporary nuisance to be dealt with, slave labor to dump “scut work” onto, or in the more enlightened companies – bright, talented developing professionals that they want to impress so the intern might consider coming to work for the company upon their graduation. To be honest, the viewpoint is largely shaped by the industry – if you are in a business-related field (marketing, accounting, or getting an MBA), engineering, or a law student, you will be treated well. If you are in a medically-related profession and most other industries, you will probably be ignored and “put up with”.
You have to remember that, as an intern, you are there for a pretty short period of time (three months, at most), and it takes a while for you to get up to speed on what you are doing. Typically, for the person who is supervising you, it takes them longer to train you on how to do something than for them to do it themselves. As a result, some supervisors (or employees) resent having to work with (commonly referred to as “babysit”) interns.
What You Should Not Expect
Assuming you aren’t one of the highly sought after future professionals being courted, don’t expect a lot of hoopla when you arrive. In fact, in some cases, the employees didn’t know you were coming until the day you show up. So, it is not like they have been waiting to meet and welcome you. Try not to be offended, it isn’t about you. It flows from the fact that everyone has lots of work to do, and an intern hasn’t been part of their weekly routine (since last summer).
Also, although someone at the company probably read your resume, your application and may have talked to you, there is a strong possibility that it wasn’t the person who will be supervising you. So, don’t expect them to know much about you, your skills and what you can do. You’ll have to fill them in on where you are going to school, how far along you are in the program, and what you do/do not know how to do.
Don’t expect them to be impressed with your academic record just because you go to a top training program in your field, you have a 3.8 GPA and are seen by your professors as the next shining star in your field. People who work full-time in the profession know that a person can get good grades but either: a) not have any practical experience and skills to offer; or b) be difficult to work with. The best thing you can do, initially, is to be polite and do whatever they ask you to without complaining.
Finally, don’t expect them to jump up and down with a lot of praise for what you do. First, some of your colleagues could do what you did in their sleep in half the time – it’s just the nature of having worked in the field for ten years. Secondly, most employees live and work in a culture where they do a lot of things, and accomplish a ton of work – but don’t receive much recognition or accolades for doing so. (Not that work should be this way, but unfortunately, it is in far too many workplaces.)
Is This Going to Be the “Summer from Hell”?
We’ve painted a pretty negative picture so far – sorry, be we are committed to being reality-based. But that doesn’t mean your internship experience is going to be out and out torture. It might be, but probably not.
Here are some tips for surviving your internship, and even making it a valuable experience for your career development.
- Be polite, humble, and have a learning attitude. Even if you are the next Einstein, don’t act like it. Listen (a lot at first) and be slow to offer your input. Even when asked, turn it back to your supervisor or colleague and ask: “What would you suggest?” People always like to be asked for their input. (And please don’t say, “That’s not how Professor Smith taught us how to do it.”)
- Find someone who is friendly and hang out with them. It doesn’t matter if it is the receptionist, the department’s administrative assistant (actually, those two are some of the best people to get to know – they know the “lay of the land” in the company) or someone from another department. You are there for a short time. You will not build a life-long friendship during the summer, and it is easier to get to know and be supported by someone who is friendly than someone who is cold.
- Show appreciation to those who instruct and help you. If you want to be viewed well by others, communicate gratitude even for the little things (showing you where the supply room is). Smile – people like other people who smile. Don’t have a sense of entitlement or condescension to others and please don’t try to show off your skills or knowledge – it won’t come across well.
The single best thing that you can do to improve the likelihood of having a good summer is to have a daily attitude of gratitude. Research has repeatedly shown that people who have a positive, grateful attitude for their work actually enjoy their work more!