Rex Huppke | How's your internship going? If you're not happy, speak up. Notice the jobs around you and, above all, be a decent human being.
Dear summer interns:
As America’s most-beloved workplace advice columnist, I’m delighted to welcome you to the midpoint of summer, your internship’s halfway mark.
By now I’m sure you have learned important things that can’t be taught in the classroom, including:
1) Work is kind of a drag, thus the name.
2) Wearing pajamas in the office is frowned upon.
3) High school-like behavior does not stop after high school.
4) Ned in accounting is THE WORST. (Sorry, Ned, it’s true. Face it and work on yourself!)
You’ve probably read — on the internet or, if you’re into weird, retro things, in books — how to get the most out of your internship experience. There’s solid advice floating around out there, but I’d like to focus on where you stand right now, with a month or so of experience under your belt and another month or so to go.
People often start jobs or projects with the right mindset and then end them on a sour note, deflated and uninspired. The same can happen with internships — you go in ready to impress and pumped to learn, then after a few weeks the work loses its luster and the novelty of you — the new intern — has worn off for many of the workers around you.
That’s why I think the middle of summer is an important moment. It’s a chance to step back and look at how your internship is going, a moment to recalibrate and remember what you’re trying to accomplish. (Aside from steering clear of Ned. God, that guy is THE WORST!!)
So sit back, take a deep breath and consider these questions and suggestions, preferably after work so you don’t get yelled at for slacking off.
1) How’s your internship going?!?
OK, that one’s kind of obvious given that I mentioned it a few paragraphs ago, but it’s a crucial question. Full-time workers often fail to pause long enough to assess how their careers are going. You’re on the front end of a career and have options — now is the time to do some soul-searching.
Are you enjoying the work you’re doing? Do you like the environment where you’re working? Are you getting along with people at the company?
Is this work experience what you expected? Or is it a letdown?
Be honest with yourself. Are you happy?
2) If you’re not happy, speak up.
You do an “internship self-check” halfway through the summer because there’s still time to fix things, or at least make them better.
An intern’s inclination is to keep quiet and not complain. That’s a good instinct when you’re doing work you’ve been assigned, but it doesn’t mean you should stay silent about your overall experience.
Companies hire interns to cue up talented prospects for future job openings. They also hope young workers become good ambassadors for the company after they leave. Whoever you’re interning for doesn’t want you departing with a bad taste in your mouth.
If you’re not happy — and do check to make sure the reasons you’re not happy are legitimate and more than just “I’m bummed that I have to wear pants every day” — talk to a supervisor. Don’t whine or seem unappreciative. Just say you’re having some problems and ask if the person has suggestions that might help.
Any risk you run of seeming like a complainer is outweighed by the chances that something will get fixed. Also, you might earn respect by showing you’re unafraid to raise your voice when there’s a problem.
3) Are you paying attention to the jobs around you?
Many of your tasks as an intern may seem menial, but you should be paying attention to the jobs full-time people around you are doing. Do those jobs appeal to you? Are they interesting? Potentially fulfilling?
Even if you’re not working in the field you’re preparing to enter, the nature of different jobs at any company — from management to customer service to technology-oriented positions — is worth examining. It might help guide you toward a path in your chosen field.
Make sure you aren’t going through your internship with blinders on. This experience is about far more than just the work assignments you’re given.
4) Are you being a decent human being?
Yes, it’s my workplace mantra, and it’s well worth asking yourself this question. Are you being nice to people and offering to help out? Are you staying humble and giving veteran workers the respect they deserve?
One of the “get the most out of your internship” bits you probably read about is the importance of networking. Truly, some of the best things you can walk away with from any internship are good references and people who like you enough to help you find a job down the line.
But sometimes we focus on the concept of networking — schmoozing, angling, thinking opportunistically — without actually considering our own behavior.
That’s worth a moment of self-reflection. You want people to like you not just for being a hard worker but for being a good person. More than ever, companies focus on how people fit into their cultures, and a person who is kind and flexible and respectful is going to fit in most places.
So slow your mind down — it’s likely racing with the pressures of an internship and the uncertainties that come with being an intern — and think about how you’ve been behaving the first half of the summer. Again, be honest with yourself.
And remember: Be a decent human being. It matters.
I hope you can use these steps to position yourselves for a good last half of the summer. At the very least, following this advice can’t hurt.
Come to think of it, maybe we should share this with Ned in accounting. That guy is seriously the worst.
Rex Huppke writes for the Chicago Tribune. Send him questions by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.