This week, I am going to focus on the internship experience, but a different issue that many students are hesitant to address.
Close your eyes and imagine just being offered the internship you diligently have been working towards. Your beliefs overcome you with excitement. You believe that you are going to perform essential policy making duties and be on your “A” game or give it your 110%. When you arrive on your first day, the staff is courteous and professional, office is big, and you have your own computer and desk; what more could you ask for? After several weeks passing by, you realize the initial exciting feeling has vanished; you actually do not like your internship. Open your eyes! This is not a dream, but is a very common reality. What do you do in this scenario?
Everyone struggles. Even I still struggle with providing the best advice or advancing my career further, but what is life without struggle. There are a very few people that made it to the top position initially. If you’re lucky enough, you were born into the royal or a celebrity family. However, most of us are not. Good news my friends, internships look good on paper, even if you think you are not learning a thing. There is still hope to market yourself and skills to pass on to other careers. Let’s take a couple fictional scenarios:
Matt from California graduated with a Masters degree from Stafford University with honor distinction. He has aspirations to settle out in Washington D.C. and work for the Department of Commerce. He tells his parents he has been accepted into one of the most competitive offices at the department for the summer 2013 internship program. His parents are happy he has been accepted to an amazing opportunity in D.C. and fully support him emotionally and financially. Matt is used to living on his own, since he lived on campus, things going his way, and networking with people to further his career. He arrives at his internship and meets the office personnel and even is assigned his own desk. Matt, the kind of person he is, already has his business cards prepared and made his own name plate for his desk. Matt wants to be part of the staff and integrated in the office. Then reality hits, Matt for the first two weeks is put on projects he is not very interested in, but still is persistent and resilient and works on them anyways. A few weeks later, he is given a project, but a project he never thought he would ever do; file and copy papers, answer phones, and get coffee. This reality affects Matt so much, his attitude changes; to an “I do not care attitude.” In fact, he still arrives on time for work, but is just frustrated constantly at work. Life continues to struggle for Matt and his tone and attitude changes towards his family and friends. Matt continues to be persistent and have an optimistic outlook, but how can he when it seems his world is just caving in on him?
Now we have Natalia. She attended the University of Colorado. She aspires to go into Politics, focusing on Conflict Resolution. She obtained her Bachelors in the winter of 2012. However, she never graduated with honors and never really obtained the best grades. Her GPA is around a 2.5, where her friends have substantially higher GPA’s. She applies for an internship for her Congressman’s office in Washington D.C. She is offered the internship and gladly accepts this wonderful opportunity. When she tells her parents, they are skeptical. They support her emotionally, but not financially. They believe working for free will not enhance any skills she does not have already. She explains to her parents the importance of this internship and decides to support herself. This will be the first time she has ever lived on her own in a city she does not know anyone. When she arrives, she expects to answer telephones, give tours to constituents, and file papers. However, her experiences are tasks she never thought she would never be able to do; writing policy memos and briefs, answering minimal phone calls, and viewed as permanent staff. She is even invited with the Congressman to The White House and other events she never thought she would be invited to. She enjoys her internship and returns back to Colorado in order to find work out there. However, she is hoping to return back to D.C. to start off her career and considering attending graduate school at George Mason University, School of Conflict Resolution.
Friends, let me analyze both fictional scenarios. First, Matt graduated from an Ivy League school, not a state school like most students. His alumni can provide him great services that will assist and enhance Matt in the future. Second, he graduated with honors/distinction. That looks amazing on the resume to any employer, especially from a private school. Next, Matt has an internship at Department of Commerce, a well-known government agency that does fantastic work for the U.S. and the world. Then, Matt hates his internship; attitude changes, people ignore him, he is nothing more than just another intern from a great school with a brilliant mind. Matt can simply market what he has done in his internship for the first few weeks. Employers are going to hire Matt for educational reasons, but will also be considered based on real world experiences that no classroom can teach. If Matt is competing for a job at Department of Commerce against another Stafford graduate, but Matt has the real life experience and the other person does not, then Matt will get the job. However, Matt needs to change his attitude since this can affect communication, one big trait employers are seeking.
As for Natalia, she did not get top grades, but had an amazing internship. So would Natalia get the job over Matt if they were competing for the same job? Not really, because both would be looked at the same. Yes, Natalia has more experience, but Matt has the grades and the school name. Both of their internships would look great on paper, but it comes down who has the better communication skills and sadly what school someone came from. Good news, overall internships show you have dedication, determination, and a drive to learn. Sometimes experiences can trump a private school and especially if you know someone in that office already, that is your golden ticket.
In conclusion, yes, you are right, it would be highly frustrating to obtain an internship you have always wanted and then realize it’s nothing more than grunt work. You have to be patient; use your internship to your advantage. Remember, in my previous posts, networking is a must and you can shape your own experience, even if the internship is not the best one. Contact your supervisor, set at least 5 goals you want out of the internship; stand up for yourself, but be professional about it. These few ideas, even the worst internship, can turn out to get you that job you always have wanted and dreamed.