by Kelsey Greer
It was the summer of 2014, and home I went to Knoxville, Tennessee for my last summer of studenthood before plunging into the professional world. I ended up with two amazing internship opportunities working for HGTV in the creative department and at Designsensory, a moderately sized and very successful design shop. Through that experience as an intern, and my more recent experience as
an intern-herder a supervisor, I have a few tips for students who want to make the most out of their internship and avoid making people angry.
I’m writing to you, dear student, because I care. I want you to be the best you can be at the thing you’ve devoted the last four years of your life to. College is hard and stressful at times, but keeping your end goal in mind—an amazing career, a life of travel, starting and supporting a family—gives perspective to hard work.
I am so thankful for all the nights I stayed up until 4am in the art building at MTSU. It taught me to do whatever it takes to get a project done. I’m thankful for all the showers I neglected to take, stinky as I was, because I couldn’t tear myself away from the computer screen. I’m happy that my design professor made us do 200+ thumbnail sketches, all with different mediums, so we’d learn that the best idea isn’t always the first idea. I’ve been where you are and I care about the up-and-coming designers and creatives. There’s room for all of us at the top, so why don’t we help each other up? A rising tide lifts all boats (cliche alert).
So here we go—how to be a great intern:
There are no dumb questions, only dumb people who don’t ask questions. You get smarter by asking questions. Questions show you care. Questions show you’re trying to understand the task at hand. Never be afraid to ask. If someone gives you a mean answer, let their attitude issues roll off your back and look for the truth or value in what they’re saying. Ask questions.
It takes no skill to be on time. It takes a little planning and a little luck sometimes—especially in Nashville traffic—but not a whole lot more. People notice when you’re the eager intern who’s always ready 10 minutes early. Don’t disrespect yourself or the job by being late. Be on time.
If, God forbid, you are running late, let your supervisor know! Communication is essential to be an effective intern and employee. Let people know what is happening around you and to you so you can do your job better. Send an email. Make a phone call. Send a carrier pigeon. Communicate well.
“Don’t point that gun at him, he’s an unpaid intern.”
Admittedly, this is the hardest one. It’s really easy to feel worthless when you’re in a room full of people you admire with skill sets way more vast than your own. But remember, you are an intern there for a reason—they chose you! You are there to learn and to be challenged. Remember all the late nights and hard work you’ve put in at school. That is your training. Maybe this is your race. One of the most encouraging things a creative director has said to me was, “You have infinite skill. You can do this.”
You have the knowledge, just put it to use! Along with being confident, speak up and offer ideas. You are creative and smart, and by golly, people like you. You bring a different perspective to the game and can offer ideas and solutions that no one else can. Be confident.
Keep in touch with the people you interned with, they may become your employers or coworkers down the road. Twice a year, check in with your old supervisor. See what’s been going on at the company, and if you want to work there, see how you can offer help. Don’t only stay connected with your intern supervisors, but also stay connected to your old professors. I got my first professional design job from a someone my college professor connected me to.
You’re in this internship to learn from real world experience, but you’re also there to make connections with people with more experience and know-how than you. You should buy your supervisor lunch or coffee if you want to learn more about what they do. You can learn so much from having an intentional conversation with someone who’s further down the road in their career, and these opportunities don’t always come up while on the job because work can get in the way.
Another group to stay connected with: your classmates. They can offer more support and information than anyone out there. They know your station in life and what you’re going through. They’ll let you know when they hear of an open position. Stay connected.
You’re an intern, not the president. Get down and dirty and don’t expect to do glamorous work all the time. Working hard at the little things can show that you’re worthy of working on the bigger things. Here at FoxFuel, no one is too good to unload the dishwasher—our Chief Creative Officer, one of the partners and founders of this company, does it almost every day! At a small business like ours, it’s an “all hands on deck” situation. If a client is coming in and the table needs to be wiped off, someone wipes the table. It’s not about pride or your fancy position at the company. It’s about taking pride in the company and doing whatever it takes to make it work. Do the dirty work.
Lastly, and most importantly, be teachable. No one knows everything. There’s always a different way, and sometimes a better way, to do something. If you start to think you know everything, you are sabotaging yourself. You will stagnate. You will alienate yourself. Let others help you reach a higher potential. Don’t shut the door to growth by thinking you know best. Don’t take direction personally, but take it seriously. Be teachable.
So there it is. The secrets to success. Show us what you’re good at. Apply at FoxFuel, apply at that dream company. But one note before you go…you are accountable for what you get when you walk away from an internship. If you don’t seize the opportunity, no one is going to hand it to you. So go get it!