Dear Intern, sincerely, from an Intern.
So, you’re currently an intern, wanting to complete an internship, or just about to start one. Well, welcome to the club! It’s exclusive, not always glamorous, and a lot of hard-work—but it’ll be the best thing you’ll ever do for your career.
It’s safe to say that coming to the end of your university degree can be daunting, no matter the discipline.
You’re faced with a fork in the road. Your choices are:
- Enter the big wide world of professional work. A life-changing moment. It won’t be like your retail or hospitality job. For most, this will mean multiple disciplines, big offices, and a 9-5 work-day.
- On the other hand, you could get better at your chosen craft and continue on with study. This is something equally formidable.
You experience a wide breadth of emotions when you make the choice to go for an internship. I can tell you this from (very recent) experience. There’s fear, excitement, eagerness, anxiousness, confidence and finally, pure horror. It’s the moment that you realise—despite the many university classes that made you think you’d be prepared—you have no idea what you’re in for.
However, as in intern coming to the end of my time, it’s safe to say I’ve learned a few things through the experience, and I’ve come out the other side better for it. So if you’re worried – worry not. Because I’ve put together a few tips for you. Essentials that will help when you’re looking for that life-changing role. To help you prepare. And to help you cope.
Welcome to this post-university world. It’s going to be overwhelming, fast-paced, and eye-opening.
Your first few days will be warm welcomes, setting up your tech, and a lot of wardrobe changes before you leave the house. It’s easier than you expected. You’ll start to think ‘I’m gonna nail this’.
Then you’ll think again. All of a sudden, you’re placed in client meetings, workshops, and induction sessions.
Before long you’ll think you have to juggle all the balls (and there will be a lot of balls) without dropping one. All of the late night exam crams or all-nighters to finish a dreaded group project will be a distant memory.
Your co-workers will appear to walk on water during this time. And you might feel like your head will explode trying to understand it all. You’ll soon learn which balls are made of glass and which ones are made of rubber. Some you can drop and they’ll bounce right back before anyone even notices. Sometimes you’ll drop a glass one and it will shatter–you’ll learn something from this.
You also won’t have to do it alone. There will be someone there to help you sweep up the shards before they get stepped on. The important thing is to not drop too many. Not everyone has a brush and pan ready 24/7; and stepping on glass hurts.
Yes—you will have to get coffee, do paperwork, organise meetings, events and lunches. You will do the tedious, but unbelievably valuable jobs.
You’ve seen the movies where the intern is running around grabbing coffee, filing paperwork and picking up things from stores at the last minute. Well, congratulations—you’ve just scored the leading role in your own motion picture!
You’ll need to be on time for everything. And by ‘on time’, I mean early. You’ll need to set-up for important meetings and workshops before the team comes in (bonus tip, you’ll also likely do the clean-up). Someone will give you a company credit card and you’ll have to write down (and sometimes make) a long list of coffee orders and lunches. You’ll learn the difference between the ‘nice’ cups and the ‘not so nice’ cups. Customer service is your jam and you must top the charts with it.
You will become exceptionally organised – to the point where you feel like a walking calendar for your team.
At first, it seems tedious. By the end, you’ll feel incredibly valuable. You’ll know the ins and outs of the day and you’ll help the ship sail smoothly on the sometimes unsteady seas. You’ll get the jobs that no one wants to do, but everyone will be grateful that you did them. Because of these jobs, you’ll learn a lot about your company, and the disciplines within it. Treasure them. They’ll teach you things that you wouldn’t have learned otherwise.
For instance, in content marketing, no one really loves uploading articles and all other artwork assets to the blog—they’d much rather design and write them. But because you’ve taken this honourable role, you’ll learn about the right design dimensions and file types, the value of SEO curated copy, and why line spacing is so important.
If you’re lucky, you’ll also get to push the publish button every now and again (after someone senior has reviewed your work, of course).
Your senior team members will be like your teachers; or they should be.
So, you think because you’ve left university or got your degree that you know everything?
Completing an internship is like going back to school with higher stakes and a pay-check (if you’re lucky enough to get a paid opportunity). You’ll be thrown into a pool with much bigger fish who have been swimming around in oceans. They have years of experience—learn from them.
These senior team members are who you aspire to be one day. But they’ve also been in your position. They’re not there to hold your hand and tick off your work with a red pen. They are there to offer tips and tricks that they’ve learned along the way.
Ask them to review your work if they have time. See how they conduct themselves in client and internal meetings. And make sure you learn the difference. Ask them to help you understand projects better, and to help you understand what you should prioritise. You’ll have a mentor that will help you do those things, but don’t be afraid to branch out. Your team will be willing to help if you ask (if they’re not, you’re not with the right team). They’ll want to see you succeed and will celebrate when you do.
You are going to make mistakes – and that’s completely ok.
Unless you’re a doctor, the occasional oversight is not the end of the world. In fact, it’s expected. Despite all your effort, something will go wrong – and there’ll be times where it is your fault. Take accountability and ask for help on how you can avoid this happening again in the future.
It’s completely normal to feel like you’re not good at your job. Sometimes you’ll feel on top of the world; unstoppable, even. Other times you’ll feel like you’re struggling to lift the weights that have been added to the barbell. You might not even be able to lift them at all – yet. But it will happen. This is called rapid growth and it doesn’t last forever. Sometimes it hurts and it’s challenging. You’ll go from training wheels to a mountain bike in the blink of an eye. There might even be tears shed along the way. No one said becoming a better version of yourself was glamorous. And if they did, they lied.
The training wheels will come off.
It will end! You won’t have to scan and re-scan papers forever. And you won’t be making coffees for everyone all the time.
You’ll learn so much about the industry you’re in. Things that you couldn’t even comprehend before you started. And you’ll learn a lot about yourself.
You will start to understand what you like in your chosen industry, and where your strengths and weaknesses lie. You’ll find out the importance of being transparent, and how to think differently. You’ll also learn that some of the people in your company are, quite literally, geniuses, and they have so much knowledge to teach.
You’ll be a sponge. There will never be a time where you can’t soak any more up, because just when you think you’ve got it under control, you’ll be thrown another challenge.
Then all of a sudden it’ll come to an end and there will be another fresh-faced, doe-eyed intern before you. You’ll be nice to them, show them the ropes, and occasionally let them fail. Not because you want to see them fail, but because there are some things they need to figure out on their own. Then, you’ll continue to grow in your discipline. Or maybe you’ll realise that it’s not quite what you’d like to do; that’s perfectly fine too. You’ve been given the chance to explore another avenue, go on another adventure, and learn even more.
That’s it. Hopefully, you’ve taken a deep breath and not freaked out about what could potentially come in your internship. Remember, you’re starting at the bottom and it’s a good place to be.
Every industry has a rookie, a junior, a grad, or an intern. You are not the first. You also won’t be the last. Remember that no job is too small, they all carry equal weight; and sometimes, even the tiniest of tasks can create the biggest impact.
If you’re lucky like I was, you’re going to be surrounded by people who aren’t just good at their job; they’re great at it. One day, you might be too. Say yes to everything outside of your comfort zone, it’s where you grow.
And one more thing. Good-luck, you’ve got this.
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