Life inside an internship
June 23, 2022
I can’t lie, I’ve been intimidated by the idea of getting an internship. I don’t consider myself timid or shy, and I have always been labeled an outspoken go-getter. But the thought of finding, interviewing, and being successful in an internship scared me for a long time. I think it was the fear of the unknown and maybe a bit more of the doubt in myself and my abilities (something I have been doing since I was little; hello imposter syndrome, I see you).
It wasn’t easy to secure the “perfect” internship. I think that’s a huge misconception. We think we will score an amazing internship in our field, and it will be everything we dreamed of, leading us right to our future (silver platter-like). I had to put in hard work. I think that’s why it’s crucial to have an internship because it takes you through all the steps of “real-world” experience while teaching you so much more about yourself and your future.
When I finally decided to dip my toes in the application pool, I made sure to interview with multiple places that fit my interests (and not put all my eggs in one shiny and cool basket). The first interview is the toughest because you don’t know what they are expecting, what they will ask, and how you will come across. Here is my best advice for any interview, but especially for internships:
- Research the company. Know their mission, values, and why you fit in with them — and be able to articulate that.
- Ask questions! The biggest thing that interviewers stress is the importance of asking questions to show your engagement and convey interest.
- Communication is key. Think about your tone and how you’re coming across (preferably positive and enthusiastic). Keep it genuine and don’t forget about non-verbal cues!
- Prepare. Prepare. Prepare.
So, what’s the experience like?
Well, to be honest, it all comes down to what you make of it. I know, I know, I sound like my parents here (yikes), but you get out what you put in. When we think about a typical internship, we tend to picture ourselves as “paper pushers” or “errand runners.” And as much as I don’t mind making the daily Starbucks run, I am here to tell you that could have easily been my experience but it wasn’t. I recognized my lack of knowledge and experience in the field, but I soaked up everything I heard. I decided to speak up. This is the greatest thing I could tell someone who is contemplating the impact of an internship. Use your voice, don’t be afraid to share your thoughts, and ask questions. Our generation has some great ideas, and even if your voice is a little shaky, sharing those ideas are so important to our future and to yours. (Trust me, the first time I spoke in front of the Board at the Mental Health Association, not only did my adjustable desk fall completely to the ground, but I also told them I was thinking of going for the NBA, not to be confused with MBA, which is what I meant! She shoots, but she doesn’t score…)
My internship was unique. I was working as a Policy and Law intern directly below the CEO and President of the Mental Health Association in Michigan. Initially, I was focusing on the policy portion, working with white page documents that impact mental health care in Michigan. I attended every meeting I could, from board meetings to webinars with legislators. I registered for events with the organization, like a mental health improv course and even pharmaceutical presentations on medications. I put myself inside of everything I could. Because of this, not only was I included in many important conversations, but I was given a lot of freedom to work on projects and pitch my own ideas.
Effort, passion, and determination sometimes outweigh experience. I am living proof. It allowed me to run my own webinars about Veterans and mental health; draft and distribute a state-wide integrated health care survey; and present those results to board members, legislators, and the mental health community. Forget the Starbucks run, I got to run around the state and make a name for myself through my internship all because I worked hard and continued to speak up.
The ending of my internship was more of a transition. As I was wrapping things up, my supervisor talked to me about being a contracted employee to continue my work and research. In three short months, I was able to learn about the field, make connections, have my work be impactful, and mostly, I found self-validation in my work and my abilities. It was a bigger lesson than I ever expected, but one that has guided me toward my future and helped me develop an even stronger voice.
I wish I had a magical answer that could perfectly encompass what it’s really like inside an internship for you. The truth is, the experience doesn’t fit inside of a mold, just like most of us don’t. It largely depends on you and how you approach it. If you shy away and do only the minimum, then your internship will just be filler on your resumé. But, if you use your voice, speak up, fight the fear inside you, and squeeze every ounce of knowledge and experience you can out of your internship, well, it can be life-changing.
Bonus Internship Tips
- Close up any loose ends with projects and items you have been working on. It is important that you communicate anything that has not been completed and even provide the next person who will be taking over with an outline of the next steps.
- Don’t forget to ask for letters of recommendation from your supervisor and/or anyone whom you worked for. If you worked hard and gave your all, those letters can be very impactful to your future.
- Write personalized thank you letters to everyone you worked with. A heartfelt thank you goes a long way, to every person you encountered on your internship journey.
- Express how you’d like to keep in contact with the organization, showing that your interest in their mission goes beyond your internship means they know you are open to a future with them.
- Breathe, smile, and pat yourself on the back! An internship is a big deal, and your hard work is something to be proud of.
Blog post written by April Marvin