Senior Account Executive
In a previous life, I worked for one of the biggest companies in Cincinnati, with about 12,000 employees. I volunteered to head the public relations & marketing department’s internship program, and for several years, dozens of interns rotated through our ranks.
I learned a lot about managing interns during that time, and I learned a lot about what made some interns great, and what made others, well, lackluster.
I’m a firm believer in internships. You get real world experience. You learn how to navigate an office. You establish connections you may have for the whole of your working life. And best of all, you learn.
Many moons ago, I racked up about 18 months of internship experience in college. I learned how to coordinate events and photography. I learned how to write releases and pitch to media. I learned how to correctly pronounce “chutzpah,” and that if you leave fruit on your desk a raccoon may break into the office and eat it. And poop on your desk. (Happened to a co-worker, not me, but nonetheless, I learned.)
So here’s some of my real world experience, from supervising interns and being one myself.
1.You’re bottom of the ladder, and that’s ok.
Your internship should not be comprised of fetching people coffee and getting their holiday gifts wrapped. But you should embrace the fact that you’re the lowest rank in the office. Your position is temporary, and your experience is less than anyone else’s. So use that to your advantage. Ask thoughtful questions whenever possible, and listen to the answers. Volunteer to do anything and everything. Assembling a press packet isn’t glamorous, but it will teach you what its contents are and how they should be arranged. Grab the photographer’s gear to help schlep it, and you’ll realize just how cumbersome it is, a lesson that can be helpful if someday you’re called upon to arrange a shoot in an off-the-map location.
2.Happily do anything you’re asked. Anything.
As a college intern, I was working on a photo shoot at the University of Nebraska Medical Center for their orthopedic division. They wanted to photograph someone getting a cast put on them…crickets. Oh, why not? I thought. It represents the first (and hopefully last) time in my life I’ve worn a cast. It was only for, like, five minutes. And that was long enough.
Another guy I know interned for Rumpke, Cincinnati’s waste management company. He was asked to dress up as Binny, a giant recycling bin. He helped out the company, and learned about community outreach initiatives in the process.
On another occasion, I was coordinating a photo shoot at The Christ Hospital’s massive new Heart Center addition, which included an outdoor courtyard for patients and their families. The architects had included cement planter boxes, with permanent trellises that could support beautiful, climbing flowers and vines. The only problem? It was November. I asked an intern to purchase fake vines and meet me at the planters to weave them through the trellises. It was a frigidly cold day, with wind whipping us high on that hill, but he gamely did it. Lesson learned? Think of the details, and realize with any job there’s a certain amount of grunt work to be done.
3.Show up on time. Listen. Dress like you belong.
It still makes me giggle to this day to think of the minority of interns I supervised who were…um…clueless. A few of my favorites:
· The guy who was blaring angry man music from his cubicle, feet kicked up on the desk.
· The young woman who called people twice her age “hon.”
There’s no need for you to buy a new wardrobe, but make sure you look put together and clean. Emulate what those around you are wearing.
These actions led to a few uncomfortable conversations for me. Which, I guess, taught me how to have uncomfortable conversations. But trust me, your boss doesn’t want to have these conversations with you, and you don’t want to have them with him or her.
4.You may not want to work for this company, or in this field. But chances are, someone you’re working with knows someone (or knows someone who knows someone) who can help you get into the company or field you do want. Behave accordingly.
Ahhhh, my favorite, most important lesson of all. After I graduated from college, I moved home to Omaha and did a summer internship. I wanted to move to Cincinnati to be closer to my now-husband, but didn’t know a soul. I just knew I wanted to work in healthcare marketing.
I mentioned this to my Omaha internship boss, who said she was working with a man at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center’s marketing department to get some guidance on a project she was doing. What are the chances?! She emailed him, and he very, very kindly talked to me on the phone and emailed me a list of contacts and job openings in Cincinnati. That led to three interviews and one job offer. That one job offer turned into a 15-year career. And that 15-year career morphed into my current position at Rasor Marketing Communications (and Rasor’s president once worked closely with my hiring manager 15 years ago). Again, the chances?!
My point here, as Linkedin professes, is that the world is small, with interconnectivity where you’d least expect it.
Ask questions of your co-workers in your internship, and you’ll likely find that while your internship may be in the field of manufacturing, your co-workers will have connections to the arts, health care, government, agencies, non-profits, Fortune 500 and more.
One intern I supervised bore an air of entitlement. He came to work when he felt like it. A couple of days would go by, and “Jeff” just wouldn’t show. My co-workers would come to me asking where he was, when would he be back, what was the status of the work he was doing?
I’d finally had enough. I tracked him down, and learned he was in Chicago, interviewing, he explained, for a job in a “field that interested him.” Gotcha. I explained that attendance at his paid internship wasn’t optional, and, as was outlined in his orientation, he was in violation of the company attendance policy. And with that, I thanked him for his time and told him his services were no longer needed. Stunned silence on the other end of the phone, and then he blustered for a few minutes, but that was that.
Too bad for Jeff…there were 30-some people in that marketing department who were networked to virtually every company and industry in the city, and he’d burned that bridge.
Perform well in your current position so that those new connections might launch you to your dream job.
5.You’re smart, you’re articulate…talk that way.
Try to check your language, and drop “like,” “you know,” “dude” etc. from your conversations. Not saying you shouldn’t ever say these words, but I recall an intern I had who was really bright, capable and hardworking. But to my colleagues, all of that was overshadowed when she started talking, and sounded like this: “And it was like, like totally, totally, like annoying. You know?”
6.Be memorable. But DON’T be notorious.
It’s certainly not rocket science. Show up. Listen. Work hard. Steer clear of drama, and never create it. Even if you hate it, see it through then conclude it’s not right for you.
Back to that internship program I supervised: in the years it existed, we hired seven of those interns into permanent positions. And some of them are, years and promotions later, still there. Good for them, good for the company.
7.Don’t do drugs. Just…don’t.
Pretty much every company has a drug-free workplace policy. And some of them drug screen applicants. The big company I worked for did. I’d just hired a fantastic young woman into our internship program, and her offer was contingent upon passing the drug screen. She started in the office as the screening was processed and worked for a day or two before the results came back.
The results? Um…indicated she had taken something to mask the presence of drugs. Yep. The tests can catch that. So, she wasted our time and she got fired. Awkward for everyone.
Follow this advice (and your inner Jiminy Cricket), and you’ll rock that internship!