I remember my first experience as an intern. It was for an investment bank when I was 16 years old – young, ambitious but utterly clueless as to what actually happened in the working world, let alone the “exotic credit division”. One thing that I did appreciate was the experience of being in the apotheosis of a challenging, vibrant and noisy working environment, especially when so young. It gave me a feel of what the real world was like, and made me begin to think about my future in a serious way.
I have gone from a grungy teenager paradoxically dressed in a suit and thrust into the finance world, to an indie mophead working at a music magazine, to a clean shaven ‘Harvey Spector’ wannabe in a law firm, to finally a PR professional. During all of these internships (and identity crises), I have learned how to ensure the internship process is as valuable and productive as possible – and not the stereotypical experience of tea making and photocopying.
Commercial awareness often causes a lot of confusion and stress, but what it really means is just following the news – reading tabloids, reading online, watching the news and staying completely up to date, especially in the field that your company specialises in. When beginning an internship, you want to give yourself the best possible chance to be able to work on interesting and exciting projects; by demonstrating that you have an acute interest in a specific news story that relates to a client, you increase your chances of receiving tailored and good work by someone working on a relevant client.
This is when the “if you don’t ask you don’t get” phrase comes into the fore. Asking questions demonstrates a confidence and willingness to learn, whilst also expressing an interest in the company’s work as a whole. Well informed questions relating to clients and accounts are almost always well-received, and in addition to adding to your knowledge of the company, they position you as an intern eager to get involved. Directly asking to be involved in a project provides you with an opportunity to demonstrate your skills and why you should be hired full time.
Be the minutes man
Taking notes is fundamental to understanding different accounts, clients and strategies. It is also very useful for your supervisors, and can work as a point of discussion between yourself and your supervisor post meeting, when comparing notes. By doing this, you present yourself as reliable and demonstrate an attention to detail when you remind your supervisor of facts that you aren’t expected to know.
Being aware in the office as an intern will give you access to knowledge and information, as well as providing you with an opportunity to see leading industry professionals naturally at work. Watch how the senior members of staff speak over the phone, with each other and face to face with clients to become accustomed to the culture of the office. If you sit at your desk with your headphones plugged in, you instantly adopt an anti-social and unapproachable stance and will be less likely to get top-tier work compared to an attentive intern who is actively engaged with the office.
Capitalise on opportunities to socialise with your co-workers. Often, networking within an internship is taken for granted as people assume that the work is the main factor in ensuring it is successful; however, forging genuine relationships during an internship is as valuable as the work itself, and will often lend itself to further opportunities down the line. Approached in the right way, internships can be an extremely useful way to experience differing work ethics, office cultures and companies in general whilst developing your own personal skills. Committing yourself completely to what is effectively a long sales pitch will often result with a wide range of rewards form a full list of contacts to a full time job.