No doubt various careers services, family members and people in your chosen industry have lectured you on ‘making the most’ of your internships. No doubt this advice came along the lines of ‘do absolutely everything’. And, this is correct. You should throw yourself whole heartedly into internships and consider no job too beneath you, because there just might be a slim chance that this internship could pay off and get you the career of your dreams.
However, as a veteran of quite a few internships now, I feel it is necessary to not just consider the internship as a prolonged test for your job that seriously challenges your tea making and photo-copier working sensibilities. You should also consider it a little bit as you testing the career. Just as you need to work out which buttons on the phone system hopefully transfer callers to the right person and hopefully not redirect them to someone who is far too important to take phone calls/a random alien on Mars, so you also need to work out if you actually want the job. (I wanted to write that so jobs too need to work out how to please you but a) that would be silly because jobs don’t have feelings and b) jobs don’t have feelings because they are hardened bastards who know there are plenty more where you came from. Sadly.)
So here are a few pointers that I recommend you keep your eye out for when you do your internships:
Watch the Important People
Chances are on most internships, certainly in media sectors, you will not be directing a show/writing news articles/any of the big jobs that probably attracted you to that career path. Most likely, you will be doing the menial tasks, and so there is a risk that a) you will be bored and think that you don’t want to do this career because you hate stuffing envelopes rather than something to do with the proper job itself or b) you are none the better off for knowing about whether you want that job and assume any bored vibes are because you are doing menial tasks.
So eavesdrop. I spent a whole afternoon stuffing envelopes the other day, but I was sat next to a bunch of television researchers while I did this and thus I got to witness them in action and so I could learn how they did their jobs and work out if those were tasks that I would myself like to do.
Obviously actually talk to them about their job when you are delivering their tea/post and they clearly look like they need a bit of a chatting break. In fact, chances are they will talk to you as a form of polite procrastination, but often I find they tend to be nicer about their jobs than is honest because they don’t want to corrupt young interns minds against work. So sneaky watching is recommended. But not in a creepy way.
Ask yourself whether size matters?
If possible do internships at a range of different sized organisations. You may like the cosy intimacy of a smaller organisation where everyone is likely to know each other’s names. Or you may prefer the grandeur of a bigger building and the larger professional scope and perks that a bigger, richer organisation may offer.
I have personally found that while bigger organisations are often ruthlessly organised with official people and mechanisms for things such as post and couriers, they can be oddly slow about things, as they need to set up constant meetings and getting hold of people who are in entirely different buildings can prove stressful at times. In a smaller office you can just literally yell your questions across a room and there is more of a creative buzz because things are a tad more chaotic.
Do the happiness litmus test
If you using your internship to decide whether you want to work for a particular organisation, it really is crucial that you do a happiness litmus test. Turning down any job in these hard times may be a silly idea but unhappiness in the work place will not equal good performance and lead to you having to leave anyway.
So see whether people smile and greet each other. Do they occasionally chat between tasks? Is that chat bitching or general banter? Is there a noticeable dip in theatmosphere if the boss enters the room? Some companies also hold regular social events for their employees or provide free food on certain days.
And a note for those nervous about internships…
Internships are good for teaching you that adults are humans too and that yes no matter how complicated looking a filing system/printer-photocopier/phone-system it is conquerable and not all that scary at all!