“You have no idea how many legends have walked these halls. And what’s worse, you don’t care. Because this place, where so many people would die to work, you only deign to work. And you want to know why she doesn’t kiss you on the forehead and give you a gold star on your homework at the end of the day. Wake up, sweetheart.” – Nigel, The Devil Wears Prada
If you’re thinking this post is about a horrific internship experience that I had, you’re going to be disappointed. In fact, it’s about an internship that was the complete opposite of horrific. There is no “devil” in my story because my first boss is one of the generous and genuine people I’ve ever met – and her most notable accessories are a MacBook Pro and a Venti Starbucks Cup.
So why choose this quote? It’s the perfect articulation of how so many people approach opportunities they are given in the start of their career. As a member of the millennial generation, I will 100 percent admit that we take a lot (if not most) of these opportunities for granted, and we are a big proponent of instant gratification. We love the gold stars, the compliments and the immediate results. Unfortunately, that’s not how the workplace runs. The job market is sometimes bleak for college graduates and having a degree doesn’t guarantee you a salary. How many times have you applied to a job that lists “2-3 years of experience” as a requirement? How can I get a great job if even the entry-level positions required three years of experience? Enter the internship.
We could all do with listening to Nigel’s advice to Andy/Andrea: When the opportunity comes, don’t squander it away. Here are my four best takeaways on how to use your internship to land your dream career:
- Listen to the Legends: Some of my most valuable experience in my internship, and subsequent jobs and positions, has come from listening in on meetings, conversations and brainstorming sessions. If you’re asked to come to the table, always say yes. You may not have a lot to contribute, but you’ll see how industry leaders and pros work. Don’t be afraid to ask follow-up questions after the meeting – it shows your willingness to understand and you’ll be ready for that meeting.
- Do the Homework (and accept the grade): I was absolutely terrified to turn in my first press release, social media calendar and blog post on the job. In theory, I had completed these types of assignments in class, but there’s nothing like turning in an assignment for a real-live client to your real-live boss that really makes you hesitant to hit send. Those assignments were far from “client ready” – I will admit they were very, very rough – but I was allowed to show what I was capable of, and then given edits and feedback to apply to future tasks. If you’re told your first draft is perfect, someone is lying to you and doing you a complete disservice. You can’t advance in your profession without growing so take the criticism to heart, but not personally, and improve for the next time.
- Forget the kisses and gold stars: Another disclaimer – I always felt appreciated during my internship experience. However, that appreciation came from a simple “Thank you” in response to turning in work. It wasn’t a five-minute soliloquy on how great my social media content calendar was. I certainly never received gold stars and kisses for simply “showing up” because, hey, that’s a requirement of the job. If I did anything over and above, I absolutely heard good feedback, but we shouldn’t expect thunderous applause for everyday tasks.
- Do not “deign”: There will be some projects that aren’t your favorite. It’s a factor in every job, but it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t put the same effort into that task as any other. There is no task below you (in fact, you can almost guarantee your boss did that same exact task at your age), and all experience is useful!
Use every moment as a way to learn, build your portfolio and gain experience. In the end, Andy lands a dream job because she decided to buy into her internship and learn from industry leaders (That’s the glossy and abridged version, but you get the general message!).
Three years of college paled in comparison to the three months I interned, and my internship woke me up to the need to make the most out of each experience I was offered. One year and 11 months after I ended my internship, I started my first day of work as a full-time account coordinator at the same company – a company other interns should absolutely die to work for, if I do say so myself!