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How to Succeed at Your Internship, By Really Really Trying

The author as an intern, Summer 2001Sing it with me now. Schoooooool’s out. For. Summer! In the television and video game industry worlds, this means offices are filling with college students on summer internships. If you were lucky enough to secure one of these coveted positions, you may be wondering what you can do to turn this internship into a real job. Read on, young grasshopper. (If you haven’t snagged your dream internship yet, check out my earlier article on how to get your foot in the door.)

  • Don’t always speak up. You may be the energetic type that’s always contributing to class discussions at school. The office is not school. Do your best to LISTEN and observe for the first half of your internship. This goes double for meetings. In a creative office, you may be privileged to sit in on meetings where a project in production is being discussed. Be very cautious about throwing in your “Well, why don’t we do it this way,” and “But that’s lame, you should do xyz.” You are the new kid on the block, and this project probably began months before you arrived. There are several stakeholders involved, and there may be politics and months of work you can’t see behind decisions that have been made. Because you are new, it’s very possible that suggestions you offer in a meeting will only slow everyone down because you are covering ground they covered before you arrived. A contribution you offer could, for example, be interpreted as a criticism by a sensitive writer you are only just getting to know. Only give your opinion in a meeting when you are asked for it, or in a brainstorm setting where everyone is contributing. If an idea is burning in your mind that you really want to share, or something doesn’t make sense to you, discuss it with your supervisor in private after the meeting. Two months or so into your internship, you should have a better feel for the office and when it is appropriate to interject. But until then, use caution. 
  • Do ask for clarification when you don't understand something, and do ask questions about the whole production process, but do so in a one-on-one setting with your boss, or other staff that you feel comfortable with.  Be sensitive to others' time and try to not to be too disruptive when there's a pressing deadline.  
  • You are there to support your supervisor(s). It is your job to make them look good. At times, it may seem like they are taking credit for your work. This is OK, to a point. The realities of fast-paced team production work mean that individuals don’t always get properly thanked for all of the nitty gritty details they take care of. Many of the things you do will be lumped in with the work of others. In minor cases, take it as a compliment. Obviously you don’t want to be taken advantage of, but if your supervisor realizes you are helping him look good, he will reward you soon enough. 
  • Understand that your office likely has a revolving door of interns. Don’t take it personally if some staffers are cold to you or don’t remember your name. They may resent having to train you, because training is tiresome, and they may have new interns 3 or 4 times a year. Don’t let cold treatment phase you. If you’re warm to them, they will probably warm up to you in time.
  • Do not use Facebook, IM, or do any other sort of personal web browsing, ever. People can see your computer screen, and you will look like a slacker. You will look bored to be at this office. Yes, you will see staffers doing it. That doesn’t mean you should. If you have down time, make it your job to find something productive to do. If your supervisor isn’t in the office or doesn’t have any work to give you, ask her if you can offer help to other staffers in the office. If that comes up dry also, ask if you can read some current or recent design documents or scripts. Take advantage of all the time you get in that office!
  • Learn to love filing. When I was an intern, I did a LOT of filing. That was nine years ago. There is probably less paperwork today, since many things are now processed digitally. But as long as we still need ink signatures, there will continue to be some filing. You have to read at least part of a document to know where to properly file it away. This is great! You will see so many interesting things. Contracts. Budgets. Script drafts. Design documents. Read it all! Maybe not every word, but definitely take a look.
  • If you want to get hired at this office when your internship is over, do everything you can to make yourself irreplaceable. Work as many days of the week as you can. If you’re only in the office three days a week, your boss will learn to fend without you on those other two days, and that’s not something you want her to learn. Do whatever you can to be there five days a week, and work your tail off every day. The goal is to have them panic when your internship comes to a close, because they can't imagine what they'd do without you.  Perhaps they'll offer you a job to get you to stick around!
Congratulations!  You're in the industry now.  Best of luck!


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Reader Comments (1)

Another bit of advice when interning: get the little things right! I read a story in TapeOp magazine about an intern who was working in a high-end recording studio. When the band needed lunch, he always got the sandwich orders right. These small victories are additive and prove that you're a reliable member of the team. When I was interning at MAKE, it was something as simple as running to Best Buy to grab a VGA dongle an hour before MAKE: Live was set to air. When I came back in time with the right part, it proved in a small way that I was someone who could be counted on.

January 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMichael Colombo

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