Some days I feel nostalgic about the early days of my career. One job in particular I held years ago in the beginning of my career provided intense challenges, continual learning and immersive experiences. It was a time where I felt my creativity and flexibility develop and shape the way I work today.
Ahh, the glory days of being an intern. No, really. In my book, the more dreadful sounding the internship, the more opportunities you’re likely to have. No pay, absurd tasks, 10-hour days, relocating to the priciest city in the continental United States for four months? Now we’re talking!
Hear me out. I know the first images the word “intern” evokes aren’t exactly counted among most people’s proudest moments, but an internship is an unbelievable chance to get exposure to some of the best minds in your industry. It’s not the schlepping of boxes around the office, mailing shipments or going on a coffee run that will change your life (although I count all of those as great character-building activities). Instead, it’s the many intangible benefits of being an intern that most of us are just too focused on the future to appreciate in the moment.
Many years ago, during my youth (I can say that since my college reunion invitation came in the mail last week), I had an opportunity to intern at ABC News in the News Magazine Division (20/20 and Primetime) in New York City. The Holy Grail of internships: unpaid, incredibly long hours, in New York City (extra broke) and unprecedented access to some of the most talented minds in the industry. As an intern, you actually get the chance to be pulled immediately into projects on the fly or, in this case, behind the scenes. How often does that happen?
As an intern, I was able to see segment shoots in person, participate in tapings and run errands for some of the biggest names in the news biz, whereas most of the staff was tied to their desks racing against a deadline. The same is true whatever the location and industry where you intern. If the CEO of the company needs help organizing her office, she’s likely going to ask an intern. Your first thought is probably, “Ugh.” But wait, others at the company would drool over the possibility of spending an hour of one-on-one time with the CEO. Or if your company is doing a new product launch, the team is more likely to call in one of the interns for help than a senior staff member on a different team. You may be doing a simple task, but you’re getting a direct chance to show your value to the CEO and multiple leaders of a company. You’ll get to speak with them and make a direct impression. Not too shabby for someone with 12 credits still left to complete.
I have a challenge for you. Sometime within the next week, spend a day or even an hour acting like an intern. If you’re feeling a need to explore other opportunities at your company, don’t wait for someone to ask you; take a chance and volunteer. Forget the restrictions of what’s possible and approach ideas as if you’re the new kid on the block to shake things up. If anyone wonders what’s gotten into you, just let them know it’s your first week on the job (Bonus: Instant intern forgiveness!)
For those who are currently interning somewhere, enjoy it. You may not be getting the glory for everything you do, but it’s truly the dress rehearsal for your career. Some things may go wrong, while others turn out smashing. Either way, seize the opportunity to get as much experience as possible. And if the CEO needs help cleaning out her filing cabinet, make sure your hand is the first in the air.
Mary Esler is an account supervisor at Airfoil, a high tech PR/marcomm agency with offices in Detroit and Silicon Valley.