While I was an undergraduate, I had three different internships before transitioning into a full-time position. If you read my post last week, you know that I shared all the details on How I Went From Intern to Employee in 8 Days. Now that I've been a part of the workforce for four years, I've had the opportunity to work with interns and serve as a mentor.
Disclaimer: These are all real things that I or coworkers of mine have heard out of the mouths of real interns. I realize that these were all said in specific situations and I'm not attributing these statements to all working young adults/interns. I figured I would lend my thoughts as a working professional to explain how comments like the ones below can be interpreted by superiors in the workplace. I understand that many young adults aren't sure what might be considered appropriate and not appropriate questions to ask, so hopefully this post will shed some light on things to steer clear of. Also, please note that the GIFs in this post are for comedic purposes. I'm not this dramatic in real life. *Hair flip*
"I can't see myself working here in the future. I actually want to work in a completely different industry."
An intern said this to me last summer after only a few weeks of working at my company and I was quite surprised. If you're an intern and you openly speak about your desire to work in a completely different industry, that makes me as a mentor and a working professional wonder 1) why you would tell me that in the first place and 2) why you're even interning for my company. Don't get me wrong, I know that people have different aspirations in life and want their path to go in a certain direction so they end up exactly where they want to be, but maybe don't voice that just a few weeks after starting an internship. Get settled in, learn everything you can about the company and the different departments and then draw your conclusions as an intern.
Yes, gaining experience in different industries is important, but if you don't give your workplace a shot and you have this mentality that you're cut out for something different just because you think you should be doing something different, that's not fair to your employer OR the other interns who applied for your position and didn't get it because you filled the spot. Internships are competitive. There are several other students who would probably do anything to have be in your position. If you honestly feel in your heart that you're not in the right place and you don't enjoy what you're learning or doing, by all means have an honest conversation with your supervisor. Maybe they could help you transition to a different department or you may decide together that it's best for you to end your internship early.
"So like, what's your salary?"
Woah, woah, woah. Not an okay question to ask someone to their face (especially when you first meet them). Or period. Talking about other people's salaries is pretty taboo, so when you're an intern, please do not ask to know or expect to be told what someone's salary is. That information is actually quite personal. It's not something you deserve to know just because you asked. If you are truly interested in learning more about salary ranges for different types of positions, speak with someone in the HR department of the company you're interning at. If you want to do your own homework and get a pulse on average salaries for different types of positions, you should check out glassdoor.com. Lots of employees from a variety of companies and organizations anonymously disclose their salaries to this website.
"I'm not cut out for this full-time stuff. I can barely get out of bed for an 8 a.m. class."
Ouch. No bueno. Please don't say this as an intern. When you're working at a place of business, you're expected to act professionally. My advice is to keep comments like this to yourself. Saying something like this comes off poorly and might make others think that you're lazy and entitled. Those aren't the best traits to be associated with, especially if you're just starting out as an intern. When you get a job after you graduate, you may have to work full-time (just like the rest of corporate America). So, get used to waking up early and potentially staying at work past 5 p.m. if you need to finish up a project or meet an important deadline. If full-time employment isn't right for you, you can definitely explore part-time positions or even work remotely from home. I touched on 17 Work From Home Jobs for Millennials last month.
"I didn't really like doing this task. Do I have to continue?"
Yes. Yes, you do. As an intern, you have to apply yourself and make the best of each situation (just like in real life). You will be given tasks that you might see as busy work, but you know what? Busy work IS work...which is kind of what you're supposed to be doing at an internship. When I was an intern, I had to make cold calls (not fun), I had to work on the weekends (not fun) and I had to drive places to make deliveries on behalf of clients (also not fun). BUT, I also had the opportunity to work on and be a part of several cool projects. If you're asked to fetch coffee and donuts for the office (which I hope you aren't asked to do), do it with a smile on your face. If you're asked to make 200 copies of a never-ending document, step up to the plate and get it done. It's all about perspective and perseverance. If you have the right outlook and realize that what you're doing is helping you to get experience and build connections in your future line of work (even if it doesn't seem like it - I know, I know...getting coffee and making copies are mundane tasks), you'll come to appreciate your position much more. When you're an intern (or an employee in general), you have to take the good days with the bad!
"Actually, I don't think I can help you with that right now. I'm really busy."
Think twice before you say this to your supervisor, who is the person who has most likely given you most of your internship assignments. If your boss comes to you and asks for help on something that needs to get done quickly, it would be a good idea to spring into action and offer your assistance. They know what's on your plate already and what kind of progress you're making. If they didn't think you'd be a good person for the task or that you weren't up for the challenge, they wouldn't have asked you to lend a hand in the first place. If you do feel really bogged down, approach your supervisor and have an open and honest conversation. Be sure to tell your boss what you're struggling with and what you need guidance on. They will be more than happy to help, but you have to ask!
I think what this post boils down to is that if you want to be a great intern, you need to always be aware of how you act and what you say. People perceive things differently and communication is a huge part of being successful in the working world. Additionally, attitude is everything! If you put your best foot forward and make it known that you're ready and willing to help out with any task that is thrown your way as an intern (or just an employee in general), that will make you stand out. So, here's to all the interns that are going to take the working world by storm this upcoming summer! May the odds be ever in your favor!
What is your advice to students who might be starting a new internship this summer? Leave me a comment and let me know.