Things nobody tells you about internships, but should

You’ve done it!  Landed the summer internship or maybe even the job.  You’ve busted into your tip jar and bought the perfect outfit, you are ready for your Real Life to begin.

On the path to my own defined career (writer, mom, stain-remover) I had my fair share of internships, menial jobs, and false-starts careers (who could forget crawling under a stage wearing a miner’s helmet to scare away rats?)  So I know a thing or two about only having a few weeks to wow someone.  But, more importantly, as a woman who grew up to employ a load of interns, I’d like to share with you a few tips for owning the job.

Expect to be confused.  Very smart people are not necessarily good instruction-givers.  Someone might be a fantastic editor, or designer of clothes, but that doesn’t mean she can explain how to do either.  If you go into your job expecting that you might get conflicting, half-explanations you won’t take it personally and, importantly, you won’t get flustered when you’re standing in the supply closet and you can’t find the paper because the paper has it’s own closet… that your boss forgot to mention.  Take a deep breath, review the instructions one more time, and if they still don’t make sense, don’t be afraid to ask.

Go ahead, ask questions.  But just the ones that help you get the job done.  On the first day you should absolutely feel comfortable asking things like, “What is most important to you in my performance?  What do you need from me?” Then it’s up to you to feel out what the vibe is, in terms of follow up questions. Some bosses love to offer consistent guidance, while others may just want minimal contact. If you’re getting the latter vibe (short responses, zero eye contact), lay low on the probing for a little unless you’re taken to lunch or you find yourself eating pizza with your boss late at night around the conference table.

Save your complaints about the job for your non-work besties.  It might seem obvious to you that your boss is a psychotic despot, hell-bent on world destruction, but if you turn to someone to joke about it, I promise you will pick the wrong person. Wait until you meet your friends after work and then unload.  Until then, dig your nails into your palms and repeat in your mind, this is not the rest of my life.

But, hey, it’s OK to hate the job.  Part of this process is going to be figuring out what you don’t want to do.   That does not mean you chose wrong or your life is going to suck.  That just means this wasn’t a fit.  The summer after my freshman year I had an internship on a feature film that was misery incarnate.  I was screamed at and treated like an idiot sixteen hours a day.  On the second week I went in the bathroom, threw up on the floor, told my boss I had mono and left.  In the short term it was the right call.  But everyone on that film went on to be interesting people in my field who I sometimes see around.  They, fingers crossed, don’t remember me.  But if I had stuck it out and done a good job I could at least go up to them now and introduce myself: remember when you threw broccoli at me?  How carefully I picked it out of your carpet?  Which brings me to  . . .

Just remember: your bosses were once interns, too.  They really were. They spent their 20s working their asses off for little thanks and very little pay.  They came in early, stayed late. True story: one of my friends (now a boss) peed down her leg rather than dare ask if she could be excused from an important meeting (questionable decision, but you see that her determination was in the right place.)  Your bosses are rooting for you.  They know how disconcerting this time of life is, slamming from dorm-life into work-life.  They want you to rock their worlds so they can help you get a toe-hold.  So go out there and kick some ass on the job. Interning may seem like menial work, but it can lead to truly great experiences, and maybe even a career you love.

Nicola Kraus is the co-author, with Emma McLaughlin, of The Nanny Diaries and many other bestsellers. Their 10th collaboration How To Be A Grown-Up comes out July 28th.  Follow them @NannyDiaries and on Instagram they are therealnannydiaries.

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