Nobody Has Time for Interns
This post was originally published in the Harvard Business Review.
Interns take note: energy and enthusiasm are no longer enough. You’ve got to bring something more meaningful to the table.
A friend and senior executive at Yelp recently shared how busy she was balancing a demanding job, a busy travel schedule, and a newborn at home. We were catching up at a Northwestern University alumni event; so naturally I suggested she take on a student as a summer intern. She looked at me square in the eye, without a trace of irony and stated, “I have no time for an intern.”
Isn’t the whole point of an intern to make your life easier? When an overworked young Gen Y executive says she has no time for an intern, isn’t something wrong with our system? Interns aren’t supposed to be a drain on time, energy or resources.
In practice, however, they can be. In today’s competitive economy, where everyone is doing more with less, you’ve got to figure out a way to be value add from the start. Interns, you might just have to come up with your own projects, figure out how to insert yourself into team projects, or just navigate this crazy world of work all on your own. Here are several ideas of how to do that:
One of the best ways to get ahead at work is to make your boss’ life easier or better. If you want an internship at Yelp, Everyblock, or with a small-business start-up, go ahead and propose your own projects. Think about areas that interest you and where you can add value. Then go ahead and pitch yourself as an integral part of the team. Show your new employer how you’re going to solve a specific problem, fill in a missing need, or simply be someone who can hit the ground running on a specific and manageable task. The “here’s what I can do for you” line is a lot more powerful than an “I’m excited to learn and do whatever you ask of me.”
Play to your strengths
Gen Y: You and your peers are tech-savvy to a degree most of your Gen X and Boomer counterparts simply can’t match. You have an intricate and intuitive understanding of the power of social media and you’re harnessing it in your personal lives daily. Think about how you can leverage your technological, well-connected selves to bring new skills to the marketplace. Can you set up online promotions for a company? Launch a twitter campaign, create and manage a LinkedIn group or beta-test a Facebook marketing push? Everyone wants to jump on the social media bandwagon these days, but many organizations don’t have the technical know-how to do it. Social networking/marketing presents a great opportunity to work on bite-size, measurable projects that you can start and finish during a summer internship.
Use the multiple-choice strategy
Contrary to popular belief, asking someone “How can I help?” isn’t all that helpful. Sure, your intentions are good, but asking your manager or boss how or where you can pitch in creates work for him in coming up with something for you to do.
If you really want to impress, go to your manager and use the multiple-choice strategy:
“Chris, I want to be as helpful as possible so I’ve thought about a few areas where I can jump in and help out. Would you like me to start pulling together materials for next week’s meeting, compile results from last week’s polling data, or research the local statutes that we’re basing the data on?”
Give Chris two or three concrete ideas of ways you can help out. It shows that you’re thinking about how best to put yourself to work. It also shows that you’re in the know, demonstrating for Chris that you have some idea about the workflow that’s going on around you. More often that not, Chris will take you up on one or two of your ideas, or the offer may prompt him to come up with something different entirely. Either way, you’ll make it easy on him to put you to work. Mission accomplished.
Don’t give someone the excuse to say they don’t have time for you. Take charge of your workload, play to your strengths ,and make it hard for someone to refuse your overtures of help.