Dear Intern: Advice I Wish I Had
Working as an intern has become a common goal of many college students. It’s a great way to gain real-world work experience in a setting that helps you learn and grow. I have held multiple internships in my life, but none have truly given me a holistic experience like being a member of Team Alpha at Awesome Inc. I have felt so supported, encouraged, and delightfully challenged here, which has allowed me to exhibit a tremendous amount of growth. However, I often found myself wishing I had some advice from a former member in my position. With that in mind, I give to you some of the most important lessons I’ve learned as an intern.
It’s okay to feel overwhelmed.
Starting in any new position can seem daunting, especially as an intern. You may be still working through your degree, or just in an entry level point in your career. Within your first few weeks, you’ll meet lots of new people and be given a plethora of information surrounding your internship experience. Taking in that much knowledge in a short period of time can be stressful, and if you feel that way, you’re not alone! 87% of people report feeling nervous when starting a new position but there are several ways to help combat those negative feelings.
You may feel like your coworkers are far more ahead than you are, and chances are, they are! A great way to gain insight into how they developed their career is through a quick-hit meeting. Schedule out time to meet one-on-one with your coworkers and just talk through what they do and how they got there. You’ll likely learn that they once felt just as overwhelmed as you do and can help you find ways to work through it. Make sure to extend yourself the same grace that you do others, allow yourself to grow, and you will see the same competence reflected in your work life.
Embrace failure (and find the lesson).
Success never comes without failure. Even the most successful people in their field have had their fair share of failures. (If you don’t believe this, ask the person across the desk from you about a failure they’ve experienced, I can guarantee they will have a story to share) In most cases, the focus should not be on the mistake itself, rather how you handle the recovery from it and what you take away from the situation. Everyone makes mistakes, but not everyone has the ability to fix their mistakes and use their experience to apply to their future. Being able to do this not only shows that you are human, but it demonstrates that you are able to effectively adapt and utilize critical thinking skills.
When you do fail at something, (and this is a when, not an if) own up to your part in it. Nothing shows integrity more than being accountable for your actions. Accept that you are one of millions of people that have made a mistake that day, determine the best course of action to correct things, then apply the new knowledge you have gained the next time you’re in a similar situation. Own it when you fail, no one else can do it for you.
Connect with coworkers.
The people you work with can be more than just others that share a desk, many people are close friends with their fellow employees. At Awesome Inc, one of our core values is to Be a Friend, and it shows in the team environment. Whether it’s monthly family lunches, a group postgame after 5 Across, or just grabbing a coffee, there are abundant opportunities to make personal connections with the people around you. Regardless of their title or position, there is almost always something you have to learn from others. This could be life advice, work tips, or the best pizza place nearby, but the point stands that beneficial knowledge is all around you if you choose to take it. Most companies have core values that guide their interactions as a business, and govern the team members that work there. You are at your company for a reason. They likely saw those same core values in you as they did your coworkers. If nothing else, this is one thing you have in common with them, and that connecting factor could be the reason you find your next employer or gain knowledge that changes your future.
Take necessary risks.
When I was onboarding at Awesome Inc, one of the required blog posts to read was “The Only Thing That’s Easy is Taking a Nap”. This article states the universal truth that nothing worthwhile will come to you easily. If something is worth your time, it will be worth the struggle to complete. This goes hand in hand with taking risks. Only by taking risks can you build your confidence, test your limits, and give yourself the opportunity to learn and grow. This doesn’t mean to throw all caution to the wind and do whatever you feel like, rather, take the time to research your situation, then make a decision if you feel the potential payoff would outweigh the potential failure. Taking risks is not only an encouraged topic in most business settings, but an essential building block of growth. Even in something as simple as crafting my first email campaign, I had low confidence in myself and my ability to create content that was consistent with the expectations of my coworkers. Despite my self-doubt, I took the chance on myself and learned far more from being wrong than I ever would have by being given a guide on exactly how to do it. Now, I have a much higher level of confidence when I am in those risk-taking situations and I know that my potential for growth and development is exponentially higher for doing so.
Ask for help (when you need it).
During the internship program, Awesome Inc works to improve their interns ability to Figure It Out (FIO). This is such a crucial skill and one that I am so grateful to be spending this year honing. However, there will be times that you have attempted to do something on your own, but you may not have the knowledge or preparation to do so without a little assistance from someone else. This is okay. Everyone, and I mean everyone, needs help sometimes. Your coworkers want to see you succeed and are here to help you (and they don’t bite!). If you try to FIO on your own first, but still have lingering questions or concerns, ask with others. It’s important that you attempt the things you are unsure of before you ask someone else, as asking for help on every small task will not only delay the progress of the coworker you are working with, but will also fail to give you the ability to critically think and problem solve on your own. Hand-holding doesn’t teach you how to better yourself, but neither does being thrown in the deep end with no lifejacket. The main takeaway here: ask for help when you need it, but don’t sell yourself short by giving up before you even get started.
Be where your feet are.
No matter what happened the day prior, one of the wonderful things about life is that every day we are given a fresh start. Each new day is an opportunity to accomplish your goals and work towards your future. Don’t let the things going on around you become a blocker that drags you away from your priorities. I discovered a theory recently that encourages followers to choose one thing that will help them to achieve their goals, whether they be present or future, and to do everything in their power to complete that one thing. The idea is, if you can improve yourself by just 1% every day, by the end of a year, you will be 37 times better than when you started. The small things really do add up, so accomplishing even one small (but meaningful) task each day will bring about tremendous growth over time.
This does not mean that you have to be a robotic working machine that is less than human. We all face trials and tribulations in life, and sometimes, it is inevitable that you will encounter a circumstance that impacts your ability to get work done. Take breaks and engage in self-care when you are in these situations. Life has so many unpredictable bumps in the road, and often, there is no way to avoid them. But make sure that you assess the circumstances and decide if this event is worth putting your goals on hold. A good rule of thumb for this is if it won’t matter in 5 years, don’t give it more than 5 minutes of your time. If you are constantly caught up in all the negatives, you fail to see the positives that are being placed in your lap. Be present in where you are and what you’re doing. Take pride in what you do and commit as much of yourself as you can, while making sure you’re not harming yourself in the process.
If you’ve made it this far, I appreciate you giving my advice a read. Internships can be incredibly beneficial and I can wholeheartedly say that my experiences as an intern have changed my life for the better. While some people envision interns as coffee runners who do the grunt work that no one else wants to, companies like Awesome Inc treat their interns like team members with valuable contributions and important ideas.
My final take away: follow your passions in your work and you will end up where you should be. Steve Jobs said it best; “The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.”