The age-old joke (idea? understanding?) that an intern's sole purpose at an organization is to make copies, brew coffee, and pick up his/her supervisor's dry cleaning is--thankfully--changing.
Just look at the Eternal Interns. These women have spent years interning. Sure, it was due to a tough job market. But they certainly didn't spend their 20s just making copies. It's been a part of their duties, but who of us in an office hasn't made a copy, or brewed up a potta joe, before?
I'm currently halfway through my second "internship". This is definitely not a unique thing; lots of people have multiple internships. But as I embark on the second half of this gig (I'll be a PULSEr for a total of 23 months), I've realized that I probably have some tips--I won't be so bold as to call them wisdom--to give to interns who are just getting started.
Personal experience has taught (is teaching) me...
- Don't shy away from helping with a mailing. Stuffing, labeling and sealing are some of the most boring tasks I've ever completed at my internships (and my job during undergrad). But as the labels, letters, and envelopes piled up on my desk this week to mail out our Annual Report (my baby that is finally complete!!!!!), I realized that familiarizing myself with this mailing list was a great idea. Our report went to 170+ partners in the community and throughout the nation--what an easy way to associate a contact name to an organization and a physical location. And every other month when I send newsletters to our funders, I get to know even more names and organizations.
- Be intentional about building relationships with staff. Unless you're interning at your parents' company, you're most likely pretty new to the company. Everyone has different responsibilities, and one of yours should be to have a general idea of what's happening in the organization. Don't be nebby, but know enough that you can transfer callers to the right extension when you answer the phone (another tip: help out by answering the phone! It usually won't go unnoticed that you stepped up to the plate).
- Never 'fess up to being an intern. Who needs to know that the point person on the project is an intern? You are just as capable as the full-time staff to do your job, if you've been asked to do it. Even if you mess up, don't using being an intern as a crutch--some day, you won't have the "intern" title to fall back on. Can't blame your mistakes on being the director of your division, can you?
- Be prepared. This isn't the Boy Scouts and it's not a song from the Lion King (confused?), but it is common sense. Sort of. On your first day, be prepared for a lot of listening, and a lot of learning. Bring paper and pen, because you'll take lots of notes. On your second day and every day after, repeat. You'll learn a lot and you should remember it (something I regrettably haven't done enough of).
- Leave notes for those who will come after you. Eventually, your time as an intern will end. Hopefully, you'll be on to bigger and better things. And unless that bigger and better thing is your internship but paid, someone will come after you. In each of my internships, I've been blessed enough to have a predecessor that left me tips and tricks, and what to expect out of my experience. My duties have, of course, varied from what the women who came before my outlined. But having those road maps helped. Why not put some other nervous intern at ease on his/her first day?
Internships can be quite a rewarding experience, especially if you're willing to put in the work to make them that way. The interwebz are full of bits & pieces of advice to make the experience better, but hopefully these tips can give you another extra boost of encouragement, or calm some first-day jitters.
Oh, and one more thing? People will really like you if you bake for them. ;)