Expectation vs. Reality of Your First Internship
You walk into the office with the outfit you spent an hour choosing last night and a lot of nerves for your first day of your new internship. You’re imagining what your desk will look like, what kinds of friends you’ll meet, and how you can impress your boss enough that he or she will be thrilled to write you a letter of recommendation at the end of it all.
Finally, someone comes up to meet you — not your boss, but an assistant — and escorts you to a tiny, hidden cubicle in the corner. No one comments on your brand new tie or your cute new pumps, and so far, you haven’t seen anyone who looks like they’re around your age.
Internships are an amazing opportunity for you to build up your resume, gain some first-hand experience, and figure out if the career path you’re currently imagining is the right fit for you. But, often times we build up our first internship experiences to be perfect, when in reality, they might not be. Other times, you might think that your days will be nothing but getting coffee and making copies when actually, you’ll be working on some really exciting things. Everyone goes into their first internship with a lot of expectations, when the reality is completely different — here are just a few common examples:
Expectation: “I’ll be the official coffee getter, copy maker, and phone answerer.”
Full disclosure — yes, you might be asked to make the office Starbucks run, print out dozens of papers before a meeting, and transfer calls, but that doesn’t mean the work you’re doing isn’t important.
Also, sometimes you might be surprised by the fun (and important) tasks you’re asked to do! If you feel like you aren’t getting enough to do, remember that most of the time people are just busy with their own jobs and might not be thinking, so while it can be scary to think about, your supervisor will probably appreciate it if you offer to take on more work.
Expectation: “The other interns and I will immediately bond and have weekly happy hours where we talk about our days and what’s going on in the office.”
In reality, you might be the only intern in your department. Or maybe your department is so big that you rarely even see the other interns. Even if you do work together and become friends, by the end of the day you might be so exhausted that all you want to do is go home and watch Netflix and eat mac n’ cheese. The people you work with and the friendships you make are important, but focus on what you’re learning and experiencing during the day — even if they aren’t ending with sipping a drink at the bar with your new friends like most movies might have you believe you will.
Expectation: “I’ll be invited along to every meeting where my input will be valued and appreciated.”
You might not get asked to meetings. It isn’t personal, maybe they just weren’t even thinking you wanted to be there. So if you do, ask! My first internship I was never asked to a meeting until I finally spoke up and asked if I could be included in at least one a week. Guess what? They said yes! They simply assumed I’d be bored by the meetings, but appreciated it when I asked to be included.
When you are in meetings, don’t be afraid to speak up. You might be nervous at first, but know that you wouldn’t be there if they didn’t think you could handle it. If you’re really nervous, maybe set aside a time with your supervisor to talk about some ideas you have beforehand and get feedback before mentioning it to everyone.
Expectation: “I’ll get tons of hands-on experience and be able to see all of the inner workings of the company.”
You’ll get lots of experience, but mostly at your desk. Most companies are way too big to really take the time to show you everything in a short amount of time, so the majority of your experiences are not likely to take place out in the field. But, this is the start of something greater. The experience you get at the desk will eventually move you forward. Tip: With the help of a good Spotify playlist, you can make the desk work a little more fun.
Expectation: “They’ll be so impressed with me at the end of this that they’ll offer me a job.”
Best case scenario, they do offer you a job. Worst case, you don’t get a job offer, but you do have some valuable experience and feedback, and possibly someone willing to be a reference.
I encourage everyone to ask for an exit interview if it isn’t offered, it’s a great chance for you to get some feedback on your work as well as pass along your own thoughts on the internship.
The important thing to remember is that every experience can, and is, a learning opportunity. While taking a seminar during my first Disney College Program, our facilitator would start almost every session by reminding us to, “Bloom where you are planted.” Maybe the grunt work you’re doing isn’t what you imagined, but it’s important start nonetheless. If you do it well, you can learn something that you’ll carry forward for your next work experience.