Interning is a great way to build your CV, network with interesting people and also find out whether a certain job or sector is what you would like to pursue. Throughout Sixth Form and University I’ve interned in a few different places including a theatre, a concert hall, a leading national newspaper and a barrister’s chambers in London. Here’s a few things I’ve learnt from being an intern.
Make yourself as useful as possible
Every company, no matter the sector, will always have a job for you to do. But, sometimes your managers will be busy with their own workload, so if you haven’t been given a specific task, use your initiative and see what needs to be done. This obviously differs within each sector but in general a good starting point is making sure your work surroundings are tidy and if anyone looks like they might cry because of their to-do list, ask if they need any help. This sounds really simple but it can be quite daunting when you’re new to do more than just follow orders. However, this works out better for you as you’ll leave a better impression, which leads to a better reference and you might find something really interesting. I once offered to reorganise a bookshelf alphabetically and in the process found a load of books that were no longer needed. Not only did I show that I could motivate myself but I also got 8 new books for free – major success.
Most tasks are worthwhile
As an intern, I’ve been asked to do some really interesting jobs that have made me excited about possibly pursuing that sector once I’ve graduated. But I’ve also had to do some really dull tasks such as finding some pretty dry research, making tea/coffee and so much tidying. However, I’ve come to realise that most of these mundane jobs actually do have a benefit – you learn more about the company itself, get a wider knowledge of the sector and making people tea/coffee is a great opportunity to network. If I’m being honest, it’s nice to have a quick chit-chat and catch some of the office gossip! Once your managers see that you’ve got a good work ethic and are happy to do all sorts of tasks, they’ll trust you to take on some tasks with more responsibility.
Knowing your worth
That being said, it’s important to be able to differentiate between a slightly mundane task that is still essential and someone taking the piss. If you think someone is essentially just offloading some of their work they don’t want to do onto you, call their bluff and ask them politely if they wouldn’t mind explaining the task a bit more. They’ll either explain why this would be beneficial to you or they won’t be able to explain how this relates to your internship and will do it themselves. Only one of my internships was paid and whilst this obviously isn’t ideal, unfortunately it is very common – especially within the creative industries. However all of my unpaid internships have come with some perks – for example, practical experience such as creating social media posts or even just the opportunity to have someone within the company answer my questions over coffee. But remember that your time is still valuable and you should never be underselling yourself. Unless it’s an important reason or urgent, if you’re not being paid, I would suggest not staying past your arranged hours and don’t take work home with you – both mentally and physically. This means you get to maintain a good work/life balance but also remember your own value.
I would highly recommend applying for an internship whilst you’re at University if you can balance your workload and it won’t negatively affect your mental health. They’re a great way to ‘try before you buy’ into a career, network with possible future employers and I’ve found them really useful in breaking the stress caused by a degree! They’re also a good way to realise some of the pitfalls within the career you might want to pursue, for example a lack of representation or possibly outdated technology/practices. If you’re aware of some of the challenges you might face in your future job, you’ll be better prepared to overcome them and hopefully change the discourse.