July 08, 2011

Doing the Dirty Work As An Intern

I was ordering lunch today at a deli when I caught an interesting bit of conversation behind me. The man behind the counter knew the two men in line behind me and I noticed they were talking about interns. They were laughing and saying that the interns were back at the office doing all the work while they were enjoying lunch. The three of them continued laughing at this thought until one the men in line spoke up again. "I loved it yesterday," he said to his friend with a smirk, "when you said who wants to take out the trash and clean the desk, and I said 'the interns.' It was great." The two in line seemed so proud of themselves and didn't seem to think anything bad of the situation until their friend behind the counter replied with, "So, a bit of intern hazing go on?" Here the one who had told the story got a bit defensive. I guess it doesn't sound quite so good when you put it that way?

If you're shocked by this story you likely haven't had an internship yet, because in most cases these things are all just part of the job description. If I'd stuck around a bit longer to hear the end of tale I imagine the defendant's response would have been something about how everyone else in the office is too busy and it has to get done somehow (though maybe not, maybe these two guys were in fact just jerks). Sorry to tell you, that's both the truth and the way you likely need to learn to see it. Yes, someday you are going to be asked to get coffee, take out the trash, pick up dry cleaning, order food, send or sort mail, alphabetize CD collections, or some other menial task you just don't want to do and you will have three choices as to how you handle it.
You can have a diva meltdown fit for P. Diddy while muttering about degrees, qualifications, general lack of appreciation, and describing your boss with a few choice words and quitting. Don't. You could also complain or do a terrible job while slyly reminding your boss that you are there to learn, not be his or her servant. Again, wrong choice and if you don't find yourself quickly fired you certainly won't be getting very far anyway.

The third, and correct, choice is to accept it, put a smile on your face, and realize that your seemingly small task isn't just a way to annoy you and most bosses (though admittedly, some may truly belong in The Devil Wears Prada Part 2 , but we can talk about them later) are not there to treat you like a fraternity pledge. Most genuinely do need that favor done in order to make time for the music video shoot, the budgeting meeting, cover art designing, tour routing, or whatever else they are busy working on. Further more, most people really appreciate and recognize how frustrating it can be because they had to do it too. Plus, perhaps more importantly, most people are usually happy to return the favors down the line by offering advice, larger projects, career insights, and the opportunity to ask questions.

So stop feeling sorry for yourself and try to be a bit more optimistic. Learn to see the value that you provide and how your small tasks play an important role in the larger organization and you may find yourself not only happier, but with a stronger relationship with your boss and a better overall experience. I can only hope that none of you have bosses quite as vindictive as the men I heard today!
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