Wednesday, April 1, 2015

8 things I’ve learned from my first internship - Elizabeth Jewitt

As my amazing internship at The Denver Center for the Performing Arts comes to an close this Thursday, I took some time to reflect on everything I have learned in these short three months. For myself and the countless others preparing for summer internships, here are 8 things I’ve learned from my first internship that might save you the trouble of figuring them out yourselves.

#1 Ask Questions!

As an intern, your employer doesn’t expect you to know everything. I was so nervous to keep going to my supervisor with questions the first few weeks, especially when I was still learning the ropes of the company. I didn’t want to be a bother, but I knew that asking questions was better than wasting time at my desk and trying to figure everything out on my own. While it is great to show independence and the ability to figure out issues on your own, know when to ask for help. An internship is supposed to be a learning experience, so don’t be afraid to ask away!

#2 Take Initiative

One of the biggest things that an employer looks for is initiative. Are you willing to come in at 6:00 am to help with a news story? Are you willing to come in on a Saturday? How do you handle down time, or not having many things to do? Do you scroll on your phone, or do you ask for more work, or another project? It’s opportunities such as these to show your supervisor that you want to be there. Also keep in mind that the company you work for as an intern could be the company that you apply for after college. Make those connections and have your employer remember you as the driven and motivated intern.

#3 Stay Busy

One of the biggest issues I had at the beginning of my internship was staying busy. It was a bit of a unique situation on my part; my employer was expecting a video intern instead of a communications intern (me). This resulted in a bit of a scramble to find projects for me to work on for the first few weeks. In that time I found myself sitting at my desk more than I would have liked. I then started to ask other co-workers in my department if they needed any help with anything, and in turn, had the opportunity to work on some pretty cool projects.

#4 Don’t Be Put Off By “Small” Tasks

The little things like scanning news articles and filing the designer’s old projects needs to get done, and if you have the free time, offer to help. It will show initiative and will be helping out another co-worker tremendously. Sometimes the small tasks given to you by your employer are somewhat of a litmus test. Accept them with grace and prove that you are a valuable to the team and capable of more challenging work.

#5 Talk to Your Co-Workers

As much as you might want to focus on your work and hide in your cubicle, don’t! Every one of your co-workers was in your shoes at one point, and would love to talk about their experiences in the field, and how they got to where they are today. I share an office with Dave, the on-site videographer, and got into a great conversation about how he got to where he is today. He actually went to school to be a lawyer, and after that didn’t work out, he taught himself how to use video editing software and eventually made a career out of it. Just be sure to not be TOO chatty. Everyone still needs to get their work done in a timely manner.

#6 Speak Up!

As easy as it is to only do the work given to you, every once in a while take a step back and think of what you can personally do for the company. In my case there were a few instances where I had a few story ideas that I pitched to my supervisor. She encouraged me to move forward with the idea, and it turned into a huge collaboration piece! Link to the story here.

#7 Get Out Of Your Comfort Zone

Although I am a communications major and communicating with people from all walks of life is my job, talking to new clients, or even new co-workers makes me nervous. There were instances when I had to interview a drag queen or a Broadway actor, and it turned out to be an absolute blast and something that I would never forget. If I wouldn’t have stepped out of my comfort zone, none of these things would have happened, and it would have been my loss.

#8 Remember to Say Thank You

At the end of your internship, be sure to say thank you! It can be as simple as an email on the last day, or as elaborate as a thank you video. In my case, I plan on writing thank you notes for all of my co-workers. My suitemate Jeanne Edson wrote a great blog post about The Art of the Thank You Note and how to make it meaningful and not generic. Be sure to include everyone that you worked with, and even the security guard at the front desk. A small gesture such as a thank you note can go a long way in brightening someone’s day and making them feel appreciated.

As summer approaches, and those lucky individuals who have already landed an internship (Congrats! That’s a huge accomplishment in itself!) start to work in a professional environment, hopefully these mini lessons will put you a step ahead of the rest!
And to those still searching for that perfect summer internship, (myself included) GOOD LUCK!!!

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