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Did you ever have an internship as part of your education?  I was lucky enough to have two internships during my undergraduate study.  I enrolled in a program that gave us a business management track where we took set courses about economics, management, accounting, and finance, and were also required to take two internships.  It was a great opportunity, though it did largely erase ‘summer break'.  One internship took place during the spring semester of our my sophomore year.  In order to make up the classwork, we had to take an abbreviated summer session. The second internship was the following summer.

Internships Are Great Opportunities For Students

I loved both of my internships.  With our program, we have many companies volunteering to take on interns.  As such, they have people that are very excited to lead interns and for the most part, give them a fulfilling experience.  I was lucky enough to feel that positive takeaway upon both internships.

My first internship was as an assistant manager at a retail store in Ann Arbor.  I got to do some things like work through scheduling, count the daily receipts, keep the ledger in balance, work on inventory management, and sales.  I worked directly with the store manager and the general manager of the chain, and for a 19 year old kid, it was pretty cool stuff.  I worked with a lot of younger people as well so the social atmosphere was nice.

Some internships can be a good step up.

My second internship was working in at an upstart consulting firm in Grand Rapids.  I got to work with some really energetic people.  I worked on creating some common templates, organizing data, setting up a software tracking system for the developers, and I thought it was really cool that I got to ‘beta test' Windows 95 for the entire summer.  Many times the ‘second' internship serves as a launching pad for a job offer once school is complete, and I definitely would have taken it, except that the manager I worked for ended up leaving the company and moving out of state shortly after I finished my internship.  While I knew and worked well with others and would have probably had a good relationship, at that point moving to a different part of the state lost the edge, and I took a job more close to home.

Skills Which My Internships Taught Me

Looking at some of the skills I gained as an intern, I can look back at quite a few:

  • Energy – I was able to see the energy levels of those who succeeded and those who didn't.  Starting day one of my professional career I knew how to exhibit energy to show that I was willing to learn and do what it takes
  • Take Charge Attitude – Many of the successful things I did during my internships came about from the fact that interns sometimes run out of things to do.  In these cases, I took it upon myself to come up with things to do or create ideas.  Doing this allowed me to apply the same principles in my career.
  • Leadership – In my retail internship, I had oversight over people.  Now, there wasn't anything earth shattering with that responsibility, but it gave me the confidence to realize that something needed to be done, assign it to someone, and follow up to make sure it was done.
  • Financial Skills (Personal and Business) – As I noted above, I got to do some of the basic financial tasks at my internships.  That was cool.  On a side note, I also got real paychecks for working 40 hours per week, and had to manage that.  Most of my fellow students didn't have the experience of managing a ‘full time' paycheck until after graduation.
  • Responsibility – Like most college kids, there were times that I would skip class or take my chances on a quiz or test by not giving studying my 100%.  With internships, I learned that this doesn't work in the real world, at least if you want to be successful.  I had to show up every day, even if there were snowstorms.  I had to work hard and deliver results.  These lessons seem overly simplistic, but even during my internships, I started to recognize those who ‘got it' and those who didn't.  By seeing this, I started day one of my professional career at a pretty big advantage over those who still had to figure out the difference and how to apply it in the ‘real world'.

Internships Shouldn't Just Teach The Student

At my current job, we recently brought on an intern.  This is pretty rare in our organization, having happened exactly zero times before this, so it's a pretty big deal.  I was lucky enough to have one of my projects tie back to work that the intern was hired to work on, so I got to spend time with her during her internship.

It was really cool to be able to do that and not only did she learn from the opportunity, so did I, and I also know that many colleagues who have worked with her on some other tasks have enjoyed and learned from the experience as well.

Some of the things that I Learned From The Intern

  • Eagerness – It was eye opening to watch just how eager our intern was to be part of everything.  One of my favorite movies is ‘A Beautiful Mind', and from the moment I met the intern, I thought of one of the lines from the movie when, as a college professor walking into teaching his first class, he looks and says “Eager young minds….”  Our intern really was eager and ready, and you often forget that as the daily grind takes hold, but it did bring back that I was once an eager young mind as well, and maybe there's something to grab from that.
  • Nervousness – I wasn't necessarily nervous but I could tell that the intern was.  This was all brand new to her, and she had no idea what to expect.  Recognizing that, I tried putting her at ease the first day, and tried to remember on some of the things that helped take away my nervousness when I first started.
  • Learning – We often get to a point in our jobs where we aren't learning too many new things, so it was really cool to see her have just about every experience as a learning opportunity.  It made me look at my career and identify some things I want to sharpen up on.  Learning should never stop.  Our minds are designed to work and take on new information, no matter how experienced you might be.

The internship experience was awesome for me as an intern, and it's my hope that in some way, I made it a positive experience for our office intern.  Her time as an intern is wrapping up this week, but she will be continuing on as a psuedo-intern (making her same intern pay and with no benefits) until a potential position opens up, hopefully in the next several months.

Internships can be a rewarding experience, and now that I've sat on both sides of the table, I can say that not only should they be a rewarding opportunity for the intern, but the opportunity is there for the internship to be rewarding and engaging for the person or people overseeing the intern and their experience.

Readers, what experiences with internships have you had, both as an intern or someone working with an intern?  Does your employer use interns as a way to successfully find long term candidate for hire?