My three internships are what got me where I am today.
The first one established what would come to be my primary writing niche. The second led to my first full-time job in the publishing industry. The third opened the doors to the magazine publishing world. From all three, I gained experience, contacts, and a deeper knowledge of what I did (and didn’t) want to do with my life.
And now I’m the internship coordinator.
It feels bizarre to have the tables so thoroughly turned. In some ways, I relish this role. As someone who also runs her own career coaching business, I obviously enjoy having the chance to nurture young word nerds.
But other times, I find myself disappointed. While my coaching clients value my services enough to pay for them, many interns don’t seem to value their internships in quite the same way. Instead, they look at them as a quick way to get college credit, or as an item to place on their resume… nothing more.
When I was an intern, I rocked the house. And not because I’m any smarter — or any more talented — than anyone else. No. I rocked the house because I was terrified of letting my supervisors down. And because I was hungry for a career within the publishing industry, and was willing to do whatever it took to make it.
So how can you rock the internship house, too?
Start off strong. In one interview, an applicant revealed that her mother had criticized her cover letter, telling her it should have been more formal. “Nonsense,” I said. “Your cover letter is the reason I’m interviewing you.” Why? Not only did it show personality, but it reflected the tone of the publication, a characteristic that bespoke a familiarity with our publication… or was at least a sign that she’d done her homework. Speaking of homework, come to your interview prepared to ask us questions. Your questions display your preparation, and also illustrate a genuine interest in the internship, the company, and the industry at large.
Be eager to learn. Despite what you may have heard, not all internships are made up of coffee runs and data entry (though, in my opinion, brewing coffee is a win for everyone). Show up prepared and eager to learn, and you’ll get much more out of your internship than just another line on your resume. What shouldn’t you do? On one intern’s very first day, I sat down to train him and, instead of hanging on to my every word (or even taking notes), he repeatedly checked his phone as I was explaining things to him! Don’t be this intern. You’re only wasting my time… and yours.
Keep the lines of communication open. Chances are, you’ll have a handful of people throwing work your way, a situation that’s bound to lead to project juggling and delivery delays. Be honest with your supervisors about your workload, and work with them to establish priorities and realistic deadlines. Also, don’t hesitate to pepper us with questions, no matter how frantically busy we appear to be.
Show initiative. Assuming you’ve already completed the work you’ve been assigned, we’ll be super impressed if you show some initiative, asking to sit in on meetings, volunteering to help out on other projects (both menial and large), and throwing out new ideas. This not only helps you showcase your abilities, but also shows that you’re invested in your internship. And when we can see that you’re invested, we want to help you out even more.
Make your internship a priority. I’ve had interns flake out right before their start date, or even midway through. I’ve had interns show up late on a daily basis. I’ve had interns plan extended vacations mid-internship without asking permission first. I know that internships don’t bring in the bucks, but seriously. Show some professionalism.
Finally, feel free to use the heck out of me. If you’ve been a model intern (see numbers 1 through 5), I’ll bend over backwards to help you further your career. So take advantage of the position you’re in. Ask me out for lunch. Pick my brain. Ask for advice, insight on the industry, or even job leads and contacts. If you’ve proven yourself, I won’t balk at sharing them with you.