After graduating from Trinity with a strong degree, I interned for next to no pay for almost two years. It was immensely formative, discouraging, hardening, enlightening and definitely led to me landing my current job. In light of the current (two-starred) movie The Internship, which promises to tell you nothing useful, allow me to share (through the organised medium of bullet-points) a few lessons and thoughts on interning in this day and age.
- The privilege of interning It’s probably a thought that barely occurs to the unfortunate intern, but it really is a boon visited on the middle-class and the fortunate. Take advantage.
- You will make mistakes My first ever internship was with the BBC. I was 20, scared and worked very hard as a consequence. When my next internship ended up being with LeCool, the relaxed vibe of the whole thing made me feel like I needed to do next to nothing in order to be brilliant. I was a wretched intern to them and realised this only later. Remarkably they still seem to think I’m not a lost cause, but the effect of realising how bad I had been was that I snapped out of it fairly drastically and got my act together. Being ashamed of yourself is a powerful driving force.
- People will influence and change you During my BBC internship I worked under the producer Patti Partee. She was from San Francisco, wore Ray-Bans, smoked in the office, had beautiful long grey hair, drove a Vespa, and was supremely competent. She was the first ‘authority figure’ I worked under who inspired me and ended up influencing many of my choices over the next few years. As an intern people believe they can give you their honest opinions and selves, given that you’re not a colleague, and it often leads to important relationships.
- Make your own work Everyone I know who has done an internship has had the experience of being dropped or forgotten about. It’s a panicky, mortifying feeling, but it is par for the course. The main thing is to get up and approach someone yourself with some idea of how you can help already formed in your head and then do it as rapidly as possible.
- University of Life It’s a silly expression, but interning certainly exposes you to the real world. I got ignored, criticised, overlooked, shouted at, and all of this only made me better (I think). Education cocoons you like nothing else. Getting a few hard knocks early on gives you an edge over the competition.
- The networking nonsense Networking is a ridiculous concept really. It’s an artificial word for people who don’t socialise or who find it hard to make small talk or to meet new people. If you’re naturally someone who is a bit reserved, then there are other ways of impressing people that don’t involve forced socialising, which in itself doesn’t get you anywhere. Just be better than all the people who do socialise.
- Always think of the next step The idea of being left to my own devices, with nothing to do and no money, used to get me into a state of paralysed anxiety towards the end of every internship. Plan the next step way in advance of the end of the internship and make sure it’s confirmed, don’t ever leave yourself at a loose end as it leads to feeling pretty de-motivated.
- Don’t rely on anything or anyone A little cynical, but probably the biggest lesson I learned from doing my internships. Rely on yourself and expect very little and only then might you be pleasantly surprised.
- Take criticism Once you get over your ego, being able to take criticism is the only way in which you’re going to improve. If you can’t take it, chances are you won’t learn as much or perform to the best of your abilities. Bit cringey but true.
Roisin Agnew @Roxeenna
Cartoons by The New Yorker