Working For Free: 5 Ways To Make It Worth It

Posted: June 19, 2012 in Advice, Internships
Tags: , ,

As someone who really prefers to take on my own projects and would rather work in isolation than with a group of like-minded people, being an intern is a bit of a struggle. There isn’t much choice in the tasks you’re assigned (unless you’re lucky) and a lot of the time there are tasks and projects that have to be split with the other interns. If you work well in this environment, you’ll have no problems. For those of you who prefer a different work situation, I’ve come up with some tips to make the (likely unpaid) internship work for you.

1. Learn From The Little Things

Expect to have a lot of tasks that are time consuming but fairly mindless (more lovingly known as “bitch work”). Taking down messages, updating inventories and databases, running out to get various items, etc. The good thing about these tasks? You can learn a LOT about what really goes into a business. It’s not all about ideas and the “big picture.” All of the tasks that are a little less exciting are essential to making the business run, and even make the company come across as more professional.

2. Don’t Wait Around: Be Proactive

Besides the daily tasks, there are likely projects that you’ll be assigned. Sometimes they are repetitive clerical type projects, but often you’ll get a more creative assignment. There’s actually a lot of opportunity at this point to learn and to prove yourself. If you can come up with an idea for a project that could help the company, you’re a step ahead of the majority of interns. It will also guarantee two things: 1. You’ll get to work on a project that actually interests you and 2. your supervisor will see that you can think for yourself, instead of waiting around for a set of instructions, which goes a long way when looking for a job.

3. USE Their Connections

In all likelihood, the company you work for has a ton of connections in the industry, or they wouldn’t be where they are today. Take advantage of this as much as possible. Any parties, shows, or networking events they host or attend, be in a position to be invited and meet some people! You’d be surprised how many people are as eager to meet (and guide) interns as interns are to meet them. Have a card, and have a smile. It’s hard to go wrong with that.

*The one thing with this is to not push too hard. If it seems like a “staff only” or upper management thing, don’t ask if you can go directly. Also, don’t promote yourself too hard when networking, it should feel like a normal conversation, not a sales pitch

4. Make Friends With Other Interns

They may not have business experience right now, but they are the future of the industry, and it’s always good to have friends who know and trust you. Internships can be competitive, and it can create an atmosphere that fosters animosity, but you can help prevent or reverse that by reaching out and showing that you aren’t a threat. Everyone in this industry has to work together, not tear each other down, if we want to build it up to the giant it used to be.

5. Ask ALL The Questions

Seriously. Your employer and the rest of the workers at the company have so much knowledge. Even if it’s something you’re not directly interested in, learning the ins and outs of the company is essential to succeeding. It shows that you go above and beyond, and (between you and me) can help shine a light on systems in the company that might not be working…which you can then help to fix. End result? They’ll either hire you or find you someplace that will.

I kept it to 5 of the basics, but here are a few articles with a lot more advice:

Internship Success

Advice For Interns

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