It’s the first day of your summer internship, and you walk into the office ready to take on the world. After you meet your new internship supervisor, she somewhat frantically shows you to your cube, gives you a few office supplies, hands you a stack of scripts to read, and heads back to her desk. But wait, what about the grand tour of the office, team lunch, and detailed explanation of everything the department is responsible for? Isn’t she supposed to stick with you for the day and make sure you feel welcome? Think again. Your supervisor is busy -- she might be an assistant trying not to miss her boss’s phone calls, or she might be a creative executive with a full day of meetings ahead of her -- and your well-being is rarely going to be at the top of her mind. If you want to succeed in your internship without feeling let down, you’ll need to remember one thing -- your internship is not about you.
Let’s take a moment to review the purpose of an internship. For you, it’s a great learning opportunity and a way to build your network. But employers aren’t taking you on as an intern out of the goodness of their hearts. Although most internship supervisors enjoy helping industry newbies learn the ropes, the main reason you’re there is because they’ve decided that you’ll be able to make their jobs easier by taking on some of the team’s work. Keep this in mind as your start your internship -- if you can look at your internship from your supervisor’s perspective, you’ll inevitably take a different approach to handling the work and make a good impression as a result.
So what does this mean for you? First, you’ll have to accept that many of your assignments are going to be tedious and boring. Interns are often responsible for creating detailed spreadsheets, making lists, or handling administrative duties. Many of these tasks are extremely time consuming, and you may start to get tired of them. But think about the big picture -- if you’ve spent eight hours working on a spreadsheet, you’ve saved someone on the team eight hours of extra work (provided that you do the assignment correctly). If you do an excellent job, you’ll make a great impression on your supervisor, who in turn will help you find an assistant position when the time comes. And then, you’ll be able to toss your annoying busy work over your intern -- it’s the circle of life!
Secondly, you need to figure out how not to be a pest. If you’re constantly hovering around your supervisor’s desk or disrupting meetings to ask questions, you’re going to drive everyone crazy. When given an assignment, do your best to ask questions up front. If something comes up that you don’t understand or aren’t sure how to approach, try to figure it out on your own (being resourceful is a key quality that a good assistant must have, so you might as well start practicing now). But sometimes you can't figure it out on your own, and in that case, you should consult your supervisor. Just make sure you don't interrupt her -- if she's on a call or totally in the zone, shoot her an email with your question or use the company's chat system to let her know you need her when she has a minute. If she looks free -- and no, her lunch break does not count as "free," even if she's eating at her desk -- you can skip the email and ask your question face-to-face. But this only applies if it's a short, task-specific question. If you have more general inquiries about the department or industry, need career advice, or want a progress report, set a meeting with your supervisor to go over your questions in depth. She’ll be happy to accommodate -- it may not always seem like it, but she definitely wants you to learn something through this internship!
Of course, you should take the initiative to make the internship work for you. Just be resourceful and do it in a way that doesn’t waste other people’s time. If you want to read through all the scripts on the development slate, go for it. You can even share your notes with your supervisor (as long as you’re okay knowing that most of the time they won’t get read). All of this is good practice, and no one will fault you for taking on work that wasn’t assigned. Also, you should try to set up various informational meetings with people in other departments -- remember, the most valuable part of an internship is the professional network you can get out of it!
Ultimately, the key to success in any internship is making sure you strike a balance between learning/networking and supporting the company. If you do all your work well, take initiative, and remember that the company doesn't revolve around its interns, your experience will be worthwhile.
--Angela Silak & Cindy Kaplan