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10 Lessons I Learned From My First Internship

Majority of college students take on an internship (or several) at some point in their college years. I’m currently a junior, and just completed my first serious internship.

It was very different from what I had expected it to be, based on both personal ideas and the stereotypes you often hear of what internships are like, such as the dreaded coffee runs. This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, though, and I gained a lot from my internship.

So from me to you, here are 10 tips to help prepare future interns for what to realistically expect going in.

1. You NEED to dress appropriately.

I cannot stress this one enough. It’s not enough to show up to your interview dressed appropriately; you have to show up every day dressed according to the environment. You may think the clothing you already own is appropriate, but chances are it’s really not.

Either when you’re interviewing or first preparing to start, one of your first questions should be, “What’s the dress code?” You don’t want to show up under-dressed (or overdressed), and thus look and feel out of place. You may not be an official employee, but it doesn’t hurt to dress like oneā€”and it’ll certainly help you avoid any awkward discussions about how you dress (think Liz Lemon in “30 Rock” trying to talk to Cerie).

Even if the internship location is super casual, make sure you put in a little effort to show you take your position seriously.

2. You’re not actually going to be sent on coffee runs.

I have never once been sent on a coffee run. While some internships probably will have their interns do something like this, it’s really not something on the intern’s job list. In my case, our building has several coffee stations, and everyone gets their own coffee. So ignore this movie/TV stereotype.

3. You’ll usually be given smaller or grunt work…

This doesn’t necessarily mean filing or organizing things, although it certainly can. Grunt work could be pulling data for Excel sheets, transcribing interviews, etc., depending on the workplace you’re in. Just remember, these jobs may not seem important to you, but these little jobs mean the world to your coworkers. It enables them to get their work done faster and keep the workplace running smoothly.

4. …Which means you may not learn as much about the field as you wanted.

When I began my internship, I expected to be walking out having gotten a true feel for the marketing world. I thought I’d be getting real projects or assignments almost regularly, in addition to the typical grunt work. And now that I’m done, I don’t quite feel like I have the knowledge I expected to have.

Because I was the intern, I really didn’t get assigned the work I thought I’d be given. While I got to assist with a few projects and get a feel of what falls under a marketing department’s responsibilities, I’m still pretty vague on specifics. I couldn’t even tell you who in the department did exactly what, despite working closely with a few of the employees.

5. You’re going to know certain employees more than others.

Like I said, you’re going to be given a lot of grunt work. These assignments will come from various people within the workplace, and therefore, you’ll end up knowing certain employees more than others. For example, I had four people out of a 13-people department that actually gave me work to do, and so I spoke more with them.

6. You’re going to learn a lot about being in a workplace.

Be it from personal experiences or hearing others around you talk about their experiences, you’re going to get a feel for what it’s like to work in an office (assuming your internship is located within one). You’ll learn about office dynamics, how to properly behave towards other (and older) coworkers, how to dress, and how to efficiently get your work done.

7. Watch how you speak.

This nugget comes from my internship adviser, who was told this when she was in college. Remember that you are the intern, not an official employee. You will most likely be younger than your coworkers, who will have been in the workplace for longer than you.

Unless it’s relevant to the workplace’s focus or the work being done, it’s best not to get into discussions of politics, religion, personal beliefs, etc. Yes, I understand how that comes off, but it’s not advised to hold such heavy conversations within the workplace (again, unless it pertains to the workplace). Also, sometimes it’s better to listen than to jump in.

And above all, DO NOT CURSE. You may hear your coworkers do it, but they’re older and officially work there. You’re the younger intern and not in a cemented position.

8. There will be days where you have nothing to do.

Unfortunately, this happened to me a lot. There would be periods where I was given quite a few things to do, followed by many days where I thought I’d lose my mind for having nothing to do. I would often end up doing my personal work to fill the time. I recommend having a backup plan of things you can do to kill time (that don’t involve being on your phone) until someone gives you a project.

9. Keep track of the work you do.

This one comes from my dad, who’s a recruiter. It really helps to keep track of the projects you work on, both big and small, to put on your resume. Having this list will not only allow you to keep note of what you learned to do, but also provides future employers a list of your capabilities and experience. For example, I helped in researching and rewriting content for the website of an agency we did marketing for, and in gathering data for a monthly email communications report. You can bet that’ll be on my resume.

10. Make the most of your time.

Most college internships only last for one semester, or two if you’re lucky enough to be kept on. The time you spend at your internship is critical to your future, so make the most of your time there. Soak up what knowledge and experience you can, make those connections, and most importantly, enjoy yourself.

*Originally posted to Odyssey


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