10 Things I Know To Be True: Internship Edition

March 11, 2015

1. It's a All About Balance
Internships are great practice for real life jobs and real life / work balance. Learning how to juggle projects and work-related commitments, in addition to your life outside of work is challenging. Add school into the mix and it's especially challenging! I currently attempt to balance my internship, a full course-load of college classes, a bi-weekly ambassadorship, and weekly sorority-related commitments. It's a lot to take on and I've never felt more inundated with things I need to do.

Instead of completely sinking under the weight of it all, I've actually found myself becoming more focused and organized. On the whole, I get my work done in a more timely manner both at school and at work. I've begun to procrastinate less in all aspects of life and I find that I'm more focused while doing work. Free time is precious and I want to ultimately set myself up to enjoy as much of it as possible.

I'm more organized. If I don't write it down or set myself a reminder – then it won't get done. I've learned how to realistically schedule myself and brace for the week ahead.

2. It's Going To Be Fast Paced
Don't worry, it's nothing you can't handle. Internship and business work days function vastly different from school days. There are a bevy of deadlines to meet and everyone has their own list of priorities and to-do's. Getting assimilated into this fast paced environment will be the hardest part. There will be days when you feel like you're drowning, but hopefully those are far and few between. A great example from my own personal internship experience revolves around a project I would've had two or three weeks to get done in school. It was my second week at my internship and I was given roughly 3-4 days to bring something substantial to a meeting. I felt a tremendous amount of pressure to meet the deadline and an equally tremendous amount of pressure to prove myself all at once. The first big project may be the hardest just because of those two factors alone. Don't be afraid. Push through. You'll adjust to the pace! Pride yourself on quick turn arounds.

3. Be A Self Starter
All I mean by this, is be self-motivated. Don't sit back and wait to be told what to do. Don't wait to be asked if you're working on anything. Don't wait until people come asking about projects long ago forgotten to start on them. Motivate yourself to go above and beyond in order to see long term success. Once you finish all of your tasks, make it a habit to immediately ask for more. I often find that when I've come to a good stopping point on all of my projects, I take a good 20 minute breather and then ask my fellow designers if there's anything they'd like me to do (whether it be picking up something they need help on or starting something new entirely). Remember that an internship is all about gaining experience and the more projects you're able to get your hands on, is just more experience. Make it worth your while.

4. It's Important to Ask A Lot of Questions
Any time you start somewhere new, there's going to be an adjustment period. That's okay. What's not okay is fumbling around blindly through your adjustment period and failing to ask questions along the way. There's no shame in asking for help–ever. Bottom line. There's definitely no shame in asking questions in order to do your job effectively or how to thrive effectively on a personal level within the confines of work. Ask about company culture, basic rules, and definitely ask for a general run down of a typical day. As a designer, I came in needing to know everything about the way my company branded itself (internally and externally). I came in knowing that my job didn't have an a "typical day" and that I'd have to be largely communicative and self motivated. Ask lots of questions in your interview and ask lots of questions post hire too. There's no shame in knowing ahead of time what you'll be signing up for if you accept an offered position.

Luckily, most jobs/internships have on-boarding for new hires, which is a great resource and a perfect chance to get a more in depth look at your company and your role within it.

5. Technology Isn't On It's Way Out Anytime Soon
Where I intern there are a lot of locations and a ton of the employees work remotely at home. Members and head honchos on my team are based out of an entirely different state! I've found that this work situation has become increasingly regular amongst a lot of businesses. It's amazing what technology has done for the work environment and it's more vital than ever.

My advice? It's important to practice polishing those video conferencing skills. Whether you interview via video conferencing or attend weekly meetings with members in remote locales, it's important to know how to utilize tools like Google Hangout, Skype, and Facetime. My first week, I was given a crash course in Google Hangouts and instructed to plan 15 minute introductory meetings with our team members in another state. I felt awkward and nervous, but ultimately, it was a great exercise.

Also, it's important to figure out the whole email thing. Businesses utilize email in a much more demanding and practical way. Before my internship the only email I received was from my sorority and shops I signed up to send me deals. In that same vein, I rarely did any emailing either (unless you count emailing myself documents for class ten minutes beforehand). Now? That's a totally different story. I email everyday and quite a lot. It's important to master email and professionalism via email (be courteous, be yourself, never hit 'reply all' unless you're sure, know the difference between cc and bcc, and spellcheck!). Be authentic when emailing and err on the formal side of things when in doubt. Once you get settled at your internship you'll get a better idea of the tone most commonly used in office emails and between employees.

6. However, Face-to-Face is Key
On that note, know when email or IM isn't appropriate. If you're able to communicate face to face with someone on a project detail, I always find it more productive. There are countless studies out there about this I'm sure, but being able to see, hear, and read the body language of someone really eliminates the confusion often garnered through email. I find that face-to-face interaction is great whenever someone is not sure about something big/complex within the project (sometimes concepts are hard to convey over email) or if an urgent response/snap decision is needed.

Also, getting feedback face-to-face is invaluable. I find I take feedback better when given to me face-to-face because it feels more like a conversation or discussion. I like being able to hear, "This color isn't working, but maybe we could implement this color here and adjust the overall width to comply with the background change the client requested. What do you think?" versus sending off a project via email and getting a list of critiques (i.e. Color isn't working. Adjust widths. Nix the background). It comes off more accusatory at times and I'm more inclined to feel like I've done something wrong.

7. Find The Right Fit
Even if your first real job or internship experiences aren't everything you ever wanted, never lose sight of finding value in the right job fit. Find companies whose missions you believe in, whose culture is compatible with your nature, and companies who value people with your skill set. Focusing in on these characteristics may help you narrow in on ideal and attainable places to intern (and hopefully someday work at). Finding the right fit is key to loving what you do long term.

8. Organization Tops Everything
Being organized feels like something second nature to put on a resume, but really take a step back and ask yourself if you are. Be honest about how organized you are and then try to set yourself up for success in the workplace. I'm the type of person that has to write everything down. If it doesn't get written down, then it doesn't get done. I utilize productivity tools while at work (mainly Trello for keeping up with projects and Toggl for keeping track of how much time I'm devoting to each task). I also like to keep a physical list and an agenda of things to get done. I try to keep work and school separate as well. Organization is impossibly crucial during your internship process. There will be a lot of metaphorical balls in the air and making sure you're organized enough not to drop them is half the struggle.

9. Internships Are Multidimensional
Sure, you'll be doing everything in your job description, but internships are far less one-noted than that. They comprise themselves of things you'd never thought you'd be doing (in a good way). You'll get to help with projects in different facets. You'll gain a ridiculous amount of experience in professional areas besides just your specific job role. For example, my internship has been less about growing my design skills (though this has definitely happened!), but rather honing them for the work environment. I've learned more about how a company functions and more about how to work professionally on client projects. I've learned how to design more quickly and efficiently, too. I've learned so much about marketing, branding, and development. Your internship is going to be multidimensional you'll gain more knowledge than you bargained for!

10. Treat Yo Self
Find paid internships if you can. There's been a big wave of turnover recently in the general attitudes surrounding internships of the paid variety (which are becoming more and more). In some industries it may be harder than others to find paid internships. Sometimes the connections and value you get from getting hands on experience in a well-known or highly regarded establishment trump getting a pay day. However, most companies are beginning to view internships as a starting point for soon-to-be grads or post-grads. In fact, a lot of places are implementing intern-to-hire type of programs. Compensation shows that the company values your presence, work, and time. It's a win-win. So, find a paid internship if you can. Save most of your $ and then TREAT YO SELF!

Do you have any valuable insights to add to this list? Let me know! I'd love to know any tips/advice you have about thriving at an internship or in the post-grad work environment! Tell me all about your experiences (good & bad).

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