Internship, New York—The First Month

Internships are like the awkward preteen years of your career. You’re underdeveloped (in skills), you’re new to the office, you’re not making any money. Nobody understands you.

I’m in the first two weeks of a new internship, and I’m struck, again, by how uncomfortable the whole situation is. I have three months—like a year condensed—then it’s all over.

For most, three months is what it takes to acclimate to a new job. It’s that magical time: anything is possible and coworkers are friendly; supervisors are forgivable and amiable. But when three months pass, the boss says, “Charlie, hurry up already with those projections, huh? Time is burning. And what’s with that tie?” For me, time has already burnt. There were expectations when I walked through the door. I am to make the most of my time, to launch, refine or develop new or current projects. No dilly dallying, procrastinating. No strolling in late with a latte.

But I’ve been here before. This is my third internship, hopefully my last, and I know the drill.

I need to be on the ball. I need to be completely aware of my surroundings. I need to impress and smile and network and work hard. Truth be told, I thrive in this environment. I love the high stakes nature of it all. I love finding an unmet niche in an overworked department and solving problems they didn’t know could be solved. Still, if my tone reads as exhausted, it’s because I am. I’m ready for something permanent, a place where my accomplishments can truly disrupt the system and change it for the better. I’m tired of joining a team, and leaving still.

However, I’m not there yet, and until then, forward!

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Here are my tips for how to survive the first month of a new internship.

  1. Be humble. I know. You are a marketing superstar, a social media expert, perhaps a computer science whiz who can fix the company’s network problems if they just handed over the keys to you for a weekend. But just chill. Learn the current system before you fix (or break) it. Learn whose feet you’ll be stepping on if you start complaining all about it.
  2. Be confident. When it is time for you to contribute, jump in. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Use that (above) expertise to impress. But don’t forget: work with the office. You are only there three months, they will be there long after. Still, people will be impressed with your willingness to jump in.
  3. Ask questions. You have no time to be timid. Ask all the questions you need. Supervisors are impressed by workers who aren’t afraid to ask for clarifications. In fact, according to Freakonomics, the unspoken words, “I don’t know,” can bring down an entire corporation. Bring a notebook with you and write down the answers.
  4. Make jokes. Interns are a fresh breath of air (or is it, breath of fresh air? I can never remember). Besides my internship, I have a part time job where many interns come and go; I get to see the other side of all this. The best part, for me, is that these interns brighten up my day. They change the pace, the atmosphere. I love, especially, when a new intern is funny. It’s all mental, I know, but it’s like a treat. I look forward to seeing them. My only warning: know the room.
  5. Look for projects. In the first month, it’s common for supervisors to give a light load. They either don’t want to overwhelm you, or they are so busy that they forget to check on you. I see it all the time at my job: interns sitting around, waiting, doing nothing. Don’t be that intern! Look for stuff to do when your work is over. Ask people if you can help them with anything, even if (yes, I know), it means getting coffee.

Someone once told me that the best interns are irreplaceable.

My biggest suggestion, then, for the first month of a new internship?

Find ways to be irreplaceable.

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What are your tips? Are you an intern, have you been one?

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