July 19, 2011

The Line between Intern and Full-Time Employee

During my first internship, I remember wishing I could define that line between intern and full-time employee. I was always hesitant to disturb my manager and co-workers for fear that I would interrupt their concentration on an important project and it was even more awkward for me if two or more people were in the middle of a conversation.

Perhaps this was largely due to the fact that I'm a rather reserved person in general but over the past year I have noticed other interns expressing the same awkwardness when trying to communicate with their managers. Many of them sneak in, quiet as a mouse, and wait patiently behind their manager's back until either it looks like he's stopped working or he turns around and sees them standing here. Okay guys, as your friendly guide, I'm asking you that if this is your habit, please break it. It's a little creepy for those who think no one is behind them and suddenly they turn and see someone standing there. It would be better to gently announce your arrival with a polite knock on the door frame before you walk in, or a simple "Excuse me, Sir, do you have a moment?" (Replacing 'sir' with the appropriate way to address your manager. In my office, we're all on casual first-name basis). The worst thing that could happen is that your manager tells you now is not a good time. In such a case, simply go back to your station, and find something you can work on until your manager has a spare minute.

Another difficulty for an intern may be knowing when to speak. Well, just because you're the intern doesn't mean you're only allowed to speak when spoken to. Do you have an idea or a suggestion? Let your voice be heard and don't be afraid to ask questions if you need something to be clarified. In some instances, you may be in a meeting where just about all of it seems to go over your head and getting all your questions answered would mean slowing the meeting to a complete halt. If that's the case, sit silently and try to absorb as much information as you can. You can write your questions down to ask about later when either your manager or your co-worker has a moment to help you understand it.

Also, if a co-worker is doing something that you learned not to do at school, you should say something. The trick is in how you stay it. Instead of saying "That's not how I learned to do it at school!" or "That's wrong!", simply ask your co-worker "Why did you do it that way?" or "Why didn't you do this?". If it turns out that your way is better and the company starts using it then you can consider it among one of your successful contributions to the company. On the other hand, your co-workers may already be familiar with your method and will be happy to share their reasons for using this seemingly unorthodox way of doing things and you'll learn something new!

You may be at the bottom of the heap as far as position status but you can still have great ideas and knowledge to share with the company. You're there to learn and gain experience, and a good deal of this will come from observation but a lot of it will come from communication and your contributions as well!

Katie Hazard | Digital Artist, User Experience Designer
khazard@internlikearockstar.com | @katie_hazard
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