10 things to keep in mind before starting an internship
Internships are not very common in Denmark. In England and America, they are the norm, and you’re almost expected to have taken several internships throughout your bachelor degree. I’m currently doing an internship at Maersk Supply Service and although I sometimes forget to stop and think what I’m learning, I’m positive that I learn something new every day. Here are some things to keep in mind before starting an internship.
1) There are many people who are a lot smarter than you.
You may be used to getting 10′s and 12′s, but being school-smart does not equal job-smart. You will have to accept that it will take some time for you to understand the industry you are in, how your company functions and who has the knowledge to answer your questions. You may feel clueless in the beginning, but in time you will become one of the smart people.
2) You are not as good at Excel and PowerPoint as you think
Before my internship, I had had some excel courses, and some experience in making PowerPoints as well. But when I started my internship it became clear how little I actually knew. The good news is how fast it’s possible to learn!
3) Every company has their own secret language
MSC, GPRO, FTE, PIP, DRC… It can be hard to understand what people are talking about when they constantly use abbreviations for everything. Time is a valuable resource, so naturally people want to shorten words and concepts. But don’t be afraid to ask what these things mean, and ask again, as you are likely to forget…
4) In the beginning, you are a burden to the company
This may sound harsh, but the first month or more, you don’t add much value to the company. Quite the contrary – the people who you work for have to spend time teaching you to do simple tasks the correct way. This could mean they spend 20 minutes teaching you how to do a task they could do in half the time. Luckily, in time you will become faster, more efficient, and will be a plus for the company.
5) Be prepared for anything
No two internships are the same. From talking to other interns, it is crazy how big a difference there is between the tasks people have. I have heard everything from interns flying to Indonesia to work on a consulting project to people having to manually migrate a website from one platform to another. The level of responsibility you will be given varies a lot, especially depending on whether you are in a large company, or an SME. But there are ways you can help yourself…
6) Ask for responsibility, and say “yes” a lot
In the beginning it may be scary to take on tasks you have no idea how to do. But it’s the only way you can learn, and that your colleagues and manager will start to respect you. If you don’t feel that you are challenged enough, talk to your boss, and try to ask for more responsibility.
7) But also know when to say “no”
In certain situations, it is okay to say no. Being mortal, there are limits to how much stress you can handle, or whether you are ready to push certain boundaries. Don’t say no because you are lazy, say no when you need to be realistic about what you can deliver.
8) Befriend your colleagues, and boss
I’m not saying add them on Facebook. I’m not saying invite them to your parties. But use lunch breaks or coffee breaks to find out what kind of humour they have, what their hobbies are, whether they talk a lot, or prefer to listen. What really helped me get to know my colleagues was that I booked several of them for a half hour meeting to talk to them one-on-one about their career, their interest, and their personal life.
9) Find a mentor, or mentors
This is easier said and done. However as an intern, it is likely that some of your colleagues will really “take you under their wing”, and are interested in your learning process. Take this an opportunity to ask them questions about how they made their career, how they tackle certain challenging situations, how they get things done, and so on. You might even be able to teach them something too
10) Paper and pen
Sometimes your boss or colleague might give you a task to do, that involves many different things. They might say all these things very fast, and then rush to an important meeting, leaving you with many clarifying questions. Therefore, my advice is to scribble down some quick notes about the task on a notepad or paper, so you don’t have to keep the 10 tasks in your head. Nobody expects you to have perfect memory, especially before your morning coffee.