For Your Internship
By Ashley Collins, AgCareers.com
Managing your expectations is key to your happiness. That statement can apply to a million different scenarios including your job, relationships, training for a physical challenge, the list could go on and on. For the sake of this article, I am not a career coach, relationship therapist, or personal trainer, so this isn’t about managing your expectations on any of those topics. My experience, however, is in Internship Programs. I’ve been an intern, managed interns, coached companies on how to build and maintain an internship program, and over the past ten years, I’ve surveyed over 5,500 interns about their internship experience. In reviewing data and comments over those ten years, it is apparent that if a student has unrealistic expectations going into the internship, it often leads to a negative experience for both the student and often the employer.
Before we go any further, it is important to note that employers must also manage their expectations of, and from, their interns as well. An internship program is about providing practical and meaningful work experience that gives students an opportunity to apply their knowledge and build upon it in a company atmosphere. Not twelve weeks of making copies, taking lunch orders and standing in the corner. Employers can learn more about what interns are looking for and how to design your program and projects to meet those desires in earlier articles we’ve published.
Back to the intern… First and foremost, you must expect your employer to provide you with training, both formal and informal training. There will be tasks, tools and situations you’ll encounter on the job that lecture halls and two-hour labs could not have trained you to utilize correctly or how to react appropriately. Additionally, for insurance purposes, your employer may require you complete that training under their supervision ‘before you pass go and collect your first two-hundred dollars.’ So do not be alarmed if, depending on the company and your role, you spend your first full week being trained! Consider this: in school, you pay to be trained, but in an internship, they are paying you to be trained!
Another reality of an internship is that you should have a mixture of repetitive tasks and challenging projects. Everyone has to work their way up the ladder and earn their stripes so to speak. You may be asked to make a trip to the coffee shop a time or two, or to install product signs along the roadway, or a myriad of other manual labor duties. Having participated in those tasks will help you appreciate all the components of the business that make it profitable and the employees who execute those tasks on a daily basis. I’ve also found that when doing those type tasks, interns often are able to identify a quicker and smarter method for completing the job. Finding the right time, place and manner to propose such a change is often where you can shine in your role. This can lead to a few extra perks of the experience such as more challenging work, greater potential for a full-time role, or even extra compensation, all of which lead to your overall happiness in your internship.
However, you should also expect to be assigned at least one but hopefully three to five, or more, challenging projects during your internship tenure. Those more involved and puzzling situations are the core of a career and where you will gain a meaningful work experience and apply what you’re learning in lecture halls and labs. A top notch employer who is offering a well-designed internship should provide you with insight about those projects during the recruitment and interview process. Your decision to accept the internship should be based on the type of projects you will have and your interest and previous experiences. Projects are often ideas that your manager or mentor hasn’t had an opportunity to further develop. Therefore, as you take over the project, you should have structured time with that manager to learn from them, which will not only provide you with knowledge and insight but will also help in growing your professional network.
Another expectation you should have is to receive constructive criticism. Notice the use of the word criticism versus feedback. While they can be synonyms, criticism tends to have a slightly more pointed tone that I feel is appropriate for the topic at hand. Part of becoming a working professional is being critiqued by someone in a higher ranking role than yours. Great intern managers have been trained in strategies for evaluating employee performance. It is not a personal attack on you as an individual. It is advice designed to help you identify areas for improvement so that you can be a more successful employee thus upholding your end of the deal to help the company reach desired profits. Which in the end, makes everyone happier. Seventy-four percent of interns in the agriculture industry last year reported being provided with a formal review as part of their internship. If you find yourself in an internship this summer that does not include a formal review process, take initiative and request one. This may be one of the most important experiences the internship can prepare you for before starting a full-time career!
To conclude, I’d like to share a statement from an intern who participated in our Internship Benchmark Survey a few years back. When asked the question, what would you suggest for improvement for future interns? The student responded with “pay for more of our lunches.” Do not expect your employer to provide you with meals. While I have seen and heard of some very creative recruitment and retention strategies by companies striving to have successful internships programs, buying your lunch every day is not one of those. An occasional meal or two or inclusion on a business lunch or dinner? Yes…maybe, but not on a regular basis. Full-time employees do not have lunch provided by their employer on a daily basis. You are being paid a wage and therefore, you are expected to pay for your own lunch.