Internship season is coming. As students and recent grads furiously send resumes through the ether in hopes of a response, I wonder how many have a plan in the event their internship dreams come true. A plan that’s a little more detailed than “show up and do good.”
As the most recent Capsulite to transition from intern to employee, I’ve found myself reflecting on the months of interning that led up to my employment and the lessons learned. The more I thought about it, I realized it wasn’t any innate technical skill or talent that led to me being hired full-time. It really took hard work and common sense. Sense so common, in fact, people have been trying to pass it on in kitschy phrases for centuries.
I’ve been wanting to do my part and pay this sappy advice forward for a long time, but management told me it was just too inelegant to share. Conveniently, management also leaves their laptop open and doesn’t log out of the blog editing software. So without anyone actually asking for my opinion and in no specific order, here are a few unashamedly overused phrases that actually hold quite a bit of weight when you want to make the most of your stint as an intern:
You have two ears to listen and one mouth to speak - I can’t even begin to comprehend how many eye-rolls or exasperated groans have been expressed at this phrase throughout the eons. But there’s a reason moms keep using it. If you love your mom you listen to her, and you should listen to me too. Odds are you’ve recently made it through a few years of “higher education” and your cranium is full of opinions and fresh takes on old ideas. Odds are also that none of your core curriculum covered the topic of biting your tongue. There will be times you want to scream and rant that your idea was glossed over or that your opinion wasn’t given its due respect. Understandable. Just remember, there will always be opportunities to express your opinion. It’s tough to learn and talk at the same time. Take this season as an intern to use your eyes and ears more than your tongue.
Play Nice - It’s the craziest thing… people genuinely appreciate it when you treat them well…. You&rsqursquo;ll more than likely hear some misguided hokum about nice guys and gals finishing last or the need to be a cut throat in a dog eat dog world, but kindness goes farther. Use difficult situations AND difficult people as opportunities to rise above the everyday expectations of how an employee should act. Remember, your coworkers are watching how you interact with others just as much as they’re watching the quality of your work. If your ultimate goal is to stick around, show your coworkers you want to be there through the way you treat them. People may forget the way you killed it in that presentation, they may even forget how you took initiative and organized that client file no one asked you to, but they’ll never forget the way you made them feel. Yes, I’m ripping off a Maya Angelou quote, doesn’t make it less true.
No one likes a know it all - You’ll never know it all, so don’t pretend like you do. There’s this rampant misconception among young professionals that the most impressive employees are the ones who have it all figured out or have an answer for everything. As an intern, no one expects you to know everything about everything. Your supervisors aren’t looking for a human encyclopedia that can spit out facts, figures, brand theories and quotes. They’re looking for enthusiastic learners and initiative junkies. Individuals that are willing to hop into whatever empty spaces need filling, roll up their sleeves, and learn as they do. Be transparent when you don’t understand something. Use hand raising to ask good questions, not to showcase your gray matter. And when you inevitably run into a problem you can’t fix on your own, put on a pair of shades and go ask for what all the cool kids ask for – help.
You are what you eat - Didn’t expect this one, did you? I should rephrase… You are who you eat with. As someone trying to learn the ropes in a new role, you’ll only ever be as strong as the team you surround yourself with. It may be tempting to skip lunch with your colleagues to catch up on a deadline, or blow off that happy-hour to mentally prepare yourself for the next day’s challenges. But, unless you consistently take the time to be an intentional team member, you remove yourself from one of the most valuable assets offered. Your team has a wealth of knowledge and experience to draw from and will be your teachers and cheerleaders as you learn and grow. So put the work away for a few minutes every day, spend some quality time with your coworkers and get to know them individually. It definitely pays dividends.
Fake it ‘til you make it – Cue fanfare, the titular piece has arrived. I cannot stress how little I knew when starting as an intern. I still have hot-flashes of panic from time to time that I’ll inevitably be unmasked as some sort of intellectual fraud. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer weight of what you don’t know, but at the end of the day, you won’t learn if you don’t do. So try to do a lot. Especially if it’s something you’re uncomfortable or unfamiliar with. Let’s be clear, I’m not telling you to blindly take on tasks that you can’t handle and try to tackle them on your own. But don’t let terror of the vague or unknown stop you from saying yes to opportunities to learn and grow. The strange thing about confidence is that if you feign it long enough it actually starts to take root and develop. Spoiler alert… you’re never going to actually “make it.” There’s always going to be some new skill to learn or advanced concept to master, but that doesn’t need to drain the confidence or enthusiasm you bring to your work. Keep faking it, keep making it. It’s a never ending process.
When all is said and done, successful internships have little to do with what you already know and EVERYTHING to do with how you learn. Becoming a prized pupil isn’t rocket science. Listen lots, play nice, ask for help, be intentional and do scary things. You'll be surprised how far the simple things take you.