Most everyone can agree, interns rank on the very bottom of the totem pole. Interns lack the seniority and skills required to perform high-level functions of the company. Coupled with the fact that most internships only last 8 to 12 weeks, interns are given a small window to do meaningful work, prove themselves to employers, and land a full-time job offer. With that said, it can be discouraging as an intern to be given menial tasks, only to result in low exposure to C-suite executives and a lack of identity within the company.
Likely, you’ve been in this position yourself — and you feel like you won’t be able to shake the intern blues until you aren’t one anymore. So, given the current resources and time constraints, how do you avoid being treated like an intern?
1. Take ownership of your project(s).
Do everything with confidence. Ask smart questions. Do personal research on your own time. As the saying goes, actions speak louder than words.
Even if you are tasked with scanning expense reports from 2013 for eight hours a day, be efficient with your time and find ways to make the project your own. Be able to articulate your work in a way that emphasizes the skills you acquired and the ways you were able to contribute to a greater purpose. I challenge you to send daily or weekly updates to your supervisor explaining your ‘why’ and ‘how’ behind the ‘what’.
2. Fake it till you make it.
Not every project will be fun — but do everything with excitement and enthusiasm. I once heard from a local entrepreneur that managers are hired based on who they are, not what they did. While your employer may not remember the contributions you made, they will definitely remember how you did it. Sometimes, it doesn’t matter what your ACT score was, or how many awards you won on your debate team. If you can’t do things with an altruistic attitude, you’re doing it wrong.
Mastering the hard skills is crucial in becoming marketable to employers, but selling yourself with the soft skills goes a long way.
3. Add value to get value.
This is probably the most important piece of advice I can give. It’s really easy to feel down about the fact you probably aren’t working on significant, high-profile projects. More often than not, you will be given a project that requires little skills and trust. Once you prove to your supervisor you are capable of taking on challenging projects, they will slowly but surely give you more than you can handle. Instead of only completing the work assigned to you, ask for more. Ask for projects that excite you, interest you, and challenge you in the department you want to pursue.
In conjunction with this idea, I’ve seen so many high-achieving interns misconstrue the concept of adding value. While employers empathize students that are hungry for knowledge, there is a fine line between giving and taking. For example, if you ask the Director of Finance out for lunch, don’t waste their time by asking questions you can find the answers to on the company website. If you want to shadow the CEO for a day, make sure you find ways to show your gratitude and understanding of the company. You would be surprised by how many students vie for face-time with executives and have little to show in return. I like to follow the 80–20 rule when asking for time with a boss.
In sum, spend your own time researching as much as you can about the company. Look for nuances in their strategies. Pay attention to detail. Offer ways to add value that full-time employees are too busy to look for. You never know, you may just blow your employer away with a new marketing campaign strategy or an efficient way to organize customer feedback.