I jokingly call myself a ‘professional intern’ sometimes, and yesterday I realized it’s kind of true! I have been interning every summer (and/or part time during the year) for the past FIVE YEARS of my life! My experiences have ranged from political offices to magazines to now my dietetic internship, and they have all been so different. While I’m not an RD yet (and therefore not officially a nutrition “expert”), I’d like to think I have some expertise on intern life after all this. Today I’m going to share the general good and bad that I’ve experienced and what I’ve learned along the way. If you’re a current, future, or past intern, read on and then let me know in the comments what you think about interning!
Pro: You’re there to learn. Internships are great hands-on learning experiences. Since you’re a novice by definition, there’s no pressure to get things all right. This is your chance to ask questions, experience different projects/meetings/events, and get a lot of trial and error under your belt. Aside from learning the ins and outs of the industry in which you’re working, you’re also learning what you like. Take this time to really pay attention and see what lights you up and what bothers you. It can help lead you in the right direction – which might mean changing course!
Con: You’re temporary. It can be frustrating to not have the opportunity to really dig into projects simply because you’re leaving in a few weeks or months. It’s also sometimes hard to get a real feel for the job because you’re only skimming the surface in your short time there. Be sure to ask a ton of questions, about your tasks but also about the job and duties of everyone you meet! Even if you can’t experience everything that goes on, you can at least talk about it with someone who does.
Pro: You have freedom (sometimes!). This might not be true for every internship, but I have had at least a few, including my current position, that really let me choose the projects I wanted to take on. Since you’re there to learn you should be able to do what you want to learn about! This should be especially true if you’re unpaid. Working for free means you have the right to advocate yourself and make sure you get the most out of your experience. Of course don’t get too crazy and refuse to do everything you’re asked, but suggest ideas for things you want to work on, and don’t be afraid to suggest new projects or changes to existing ones! Just because you’re the intern doesn’t mean you can’t make a real impact with your ideas.
Con: Downtime. This is also not always true, but it took a long time for me find an internship without a lot of down time. Since you’re not really getting into the full swing of things with a temporary position, you might be lacking work at times and end up bored. The first step is always to ask around if there are other things to do. When I was really bored at some internships I would take an office lap and just ask everyone if they needed help! Worst case: the answer is no but you got some steps in and are simply reminding people that you’re at their service when things do come up. You can also use downtime to come up with your own ideas for projects and later suggest them to your boss. The initiative will be admired!
Pro: There’s no commitment. Yes, being a temporary help can be a bummer, but the flip side is you’re not tied to anything you might end up disliking. Nearly all my college internships helped me cross jobs off the list of potential options. It sometimes felt like I was wasting time (and wasting my youth in over air conditioned offices….ok that’s a little dramatic) but it was really SO valuable to learn what I didn’t like without signing a contract. Every experience is teaching you something and leading you somewhere, even if it’s not the direction you planned.
Con: You often need a middle man. As an intern, you might have restricted access to tools or resources that you need to get your work done. It can be frustrating to always be asking for help when you just want to be independent. Use this interaction with co-workers as a way to get to know people! Instead of feeling bad for interrupting someone to get their help with the printer, try to strike up a short conversation and make a connection. You’ll be happier since you’re getting to know people, and they’ll get to know more about you!
It’s not always fun being the intern (but sometimes it really is) so whether you love or hate your job, here are some tips based on my personal experiences to make it through!
- Get to know your coworkers. The people truly can make or break an experience – and you never know, the relationship might last! (I was invited to the wedding of an intern friend and another friend from an internship ended up dating one of my college friends! #matchmaker)
- Take initiative. People in the office are often busy and might seem to neglect that you need work – they don’t dislike you or forget about you, but they are preoccupied, so make it known if you need more work to do!
- Take breaks! You’re the intern! …and often you’re unpaid, so there’s no reason to be killing yourself with overtime hours. This is an experience for you so take that lunch break to recharge (my personal opinion- I know some might disagree)
- Pack lunch – *see “unpaid”*
- Do some journaling or just deep thinking. I find it so helpful to constantly be reflecting on whether or not the things I do/observe are things I want in my future career. I’m a planner! So it’s helpful to always be thinking about how this will look (or not) in my own future career
- Stay in touch! I like to follow up with past internship supervisors periodically to let them know what I’m up to now and how my experience with them helped me get to where I am. They always appreciate updates, and you never know when those connections will come in handy!
- If you really hate your job (and even if you don’t)….network! Use your downtime to network (even just online! I’m also a self proclaimed LinkedIn stalker) with people who are doing things you do want to do. I once had a casual phone interview with someone in an industry I was interested in while I was interning in a totally different field that I realized I hated. A couple months later the company where I had talked to someone was looking for an intern and guess who got the job! You truly never know!
I hope these tips can help you out in your internships! Hopefully I’ll soon have CAREER advice…my last tip: try not to be an intern for 5 years 😛
Share your intern tips and experiences in the comments! I’d love to hear more as I continue through my dietetic internship! (follow along with my daily life throughout it on insta!)