With a peanut butter and jelly bagel in hand, I raced out of my apartment and down the perfectly manicured street determined to make it to the bus stop on time. I was on time, but my (understandable!) mistake of going to the bus stop on the opposite side of the road would throw an extra ten minutes of travel time to my morning commute on the first day of my internship in London. And just like that, I was late.
I spent much of my life dreaming of faraway cities and the lives that might accompany them. When the opportunity arose to intern at a London-based media organization for a semester through my study abroad host institution, I had to jump at the chance to fulfill a dream I’d dreamed for so long. This time last year, I was packing my bags in preparation for what would become one of my most transformative professional experiences yet. Now, as the summer before my senior year of university comes to a close, I have found myself reflecting on the growth I’ve seen in myself since departing for London a year ago, and the lessons I’ve learned from interning since then. Below, find a list of things I wish I’d known about internships around this time last year.
Your internship isn’t meant to be glamorous.
It doesn’t matter what city or industry you’re interning in -- every position has its ups and downs. There can be really cool moments of any internship, like getting your work published or working on a dream project of yours, but there will also be days filled with seemingly mundane tasks, like editing the index of a textbook on molecular biology (I know what you’re thinking, and yes I have actually done this. Unfortunately.) Watching the sun set from your desk might only remind you of how much of your day you’ve spent at the office, but interning isn’t meant to be glamorous. It’s a step down your career path to one day get you to where you’re going.
Eating out every day might be convenient in theory, but your wallet will hate you for it.
I loved taking walks to the nearby falafel stand around midday, but eating out during every lunch break wasn’t at all sustainable for my wallet in the long run. Looking back, I would have benefited from adopting my coworker’s practice of eating a packed lunch at her desk and then spending her lunch hour walking around the neighborhood. But… you live and you learn, and you have some really great falafel in the meantime.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
While it might seem like it’s in your interest to avoid asking your boss seemingly silly questions, it’s important to remember that dumb questions don’t exist. It’s always better to ask for clarification than it is to entirely mess up a task, and that goes for everything — from how to work the copier to your boss’s preferred coffee order. Chances are that a point of clarification will only save you time in the long run.
If your boss doesn’t offer an exit interview, ask for one.
At the end of the internship, most organizations will offer an exit interview, an opportunity for the intern to learn about their overall performance and room to grow while sharing their experience interning for the organization. It’s a great chance to get tangible, concentrated feedback on your performance, and the conversation gives you language to describe your experience and growth in future interviews. The next time a hiring manager asks for your strengths and weaknesses in a job interview, you can directly reference points of improvement raised in your exit interview, as well as what steps you have taken to improve them.
Make the most of your internship, but make sure you know how to talk about your experience in future interviews.
Like everyone’s least favorite classmate would say, to piggyback off of #4… While interning, I was taking an internship experience course at my host institution. Throughout the course, we learned to reflect on our experiences as they were happening, so as to better equip us to discuss our internships with future hiring managers or bosses. One of the most valuable pieces of advice I learned was to identify key projects or initiatives I was proud of working on throughout the internship and exactly how I was an asset to the team in those situations. Having concrete examples of your work and your growth throughout your internship will show that you took the position seriously.
Internships are a hit or miss. In a sense, that’s why they exist -- to show you what you do and don’t want to do with your life. They are an opportunity to identify what kind of work ethic you appreciate in your colleagues, what kind of communicator you are, and how you generally operate in a professional setting. And you also learn a lot about yourself along the way. As the existential crisis that accompanies senior year begins to set in, I’m not sure exactly where I’ll be a year from now but hopefully I’ll be racing down a street in a city I love, heading to a workplace I adore.