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The secret to being a good intern: you’ll be surprised

3 min, 58 sec read
12:14 PM | 3 March 2014
by Charles Oben
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Friday was the last day of my internship at Work Club.

It’s been great because I learned the secret to being a good intern.

The four magic words no one ever told you.

Embrace being an intern.

As Will Humphrey rightly said, “You may have a first from your University and have been academic hot shit; that doesn’t mean anything in the real world.”

Lots of people don’t get that. They expect to waltz in, sprinkle a little fairy dust and immediately be given keys to the kingdom.

Truth is, you know the square root of diddly squat. Consider yourself the beef off the back of a still moaning cow. Raw. Add real work experience for seasoning.

Once you’ve done that. The learning begins. Here’s how:

1. Nothing is beneath you

Copybot agrees. She’s seen “plenty of work experience people getting irritated or just plain failing to volunteer for things that aren’t very glamorous.”

You haven’t earned the right to turn your nose up at anything. You are not above any job or task. You are more underground than Jamiroquai’s 1998 hit.

“Everyone else has already earned their stripes. Until you earn yours, don’t make enemies.”

Accept this and you will learn. A lot. Quickly.

Whatever it is, become the Zen master. See it as a chance to become indispensable. The Chuck Norris of Spreadsheets. The Jackie Chan of Coffee. The Jack Bauer of invoicing. Eventually you’ll get asked to do something else.

2. Ask and you shall receive – Matthew 7:7

Don’t get offended when left to your own devices. It will happen.

Everyone’s too busy playing jenga with their heavy workload.

This is when you offer to help. Volunteer. Help ease their burden. Ask more. Learn more. Do more. Otherwise, read. You can never read enough.

3. Be nice

Obvious, but still important because advertising is a people business. People need to like you. Especially when starting out. Everyone else has already earned their stripes. Until you earn yours, don’t make enemies.

Right now, everyone has something to teach you. But they won’t lift a finger if they think you’re a dick. And you won’t have a clue.

“You are not above any job or task.”

You know that annoying family friend you have to pretend to like because mum says so? The guy you mentally give the finger to every time you see, but greet with a smile so dazzling you could star in a Colgate ad? Don’t be that guy.

Smile until your lips bleed. And mean it.

4. Learn from your mistakes

Whoever you’re working for, or under, has more experience than you. When things go wrong, more likely than not, it’s your fault.

This happened to me early last week. I was working on a presentation for a client. I spent a lot of time on it. But, in the end, my work wasn’t really used.

Instead of throwing a fit, I asked for feedback. I wanted to learn from the experience. Why? Refer to point one. The response? Great.

5. Speak up

You’re the new kid on the block. Don’t make it so obvious. Get involved. Try to blend in. Join in conversations. Crack a joke or two if you can. Be a chameleon, not a fly on the wall no one remembers.

Case in point, one of the creative partners asked me to chip in on a brand manifesto the other day. I’d previously spread the word I like to write.

Now, what I wrote probably sucked. Relatively. It doesn’t matter. I’m happy I was asked. When people ask you to do stuff, it means you’ve stopped being a nobody. Welcome the opportunity.

6. Don’t be taken advantage of

Being an intern doesn’t mean you should let people take the piss. Occasionally, this might happen. Often when you’re trying to be helpful to everyone. If you get given way too much work, you have to push back.

But be careful how you do it. After all, you’re still an intern. Don’t give a retort like a Federer backhand smash down the line. Brilliant it may be, you’ll regret it later.

“You’re the new kid on the block. Don’t make it so obvious. Get involved.”

You want the ball to trickle over the net, like you’re almost sorry for winning the point. In this case, the argument. It’ll keep your reputation intact.

And until you’ve learned enough, or done enough to start producing great work, your reputation is all you’ve got. Don’t jeopardize it.

As Warren Buffet says, “It takes a lifetime to build a reputation. And one minute to ruin it.”

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