The following blog post is an extended version of one that I wrote for Indiana INTERNnet. You can view the original as it was published here.
“What’s something you’ve learned at your summer internship?”
Recently, a fellow public relations student that I follow on Twitter posed this question. It was an opportunity to spark discussion among everyone in his following about the benefits of being an intern, and I found it intriguing. I’ve been with Indiana INTERNnet for just over a month now, but it feels (in the best way) like I’ve been a part of the team for a long time. In the last month, I’ve learned several things, and I continue to learn every day, but whittling all my experiences down into one lesson seemed difficult. Then it dawned on me – speak up.
I could tell you a handful of things that are highly specific to my internship and my industry, but the best advice I can give that is applicable to interns in any field is to not be afraid to use your voice. It’s easy to feel like your opinion doesn’t matter or that it’s not your place to share since you’re ‘just’ an intern. However, most of the time that’s a big mistake. As Avery Blank wrote in a recent Forbes article, “Your opinion is your power.” You have the benefit of seeing from a perspective that is totally different from anyone else who works in at your organization.
Yes, you are a student and an intern. No, that doesn’t mean your perspective and the subsequent ideas that you have from seeing things the way you do, are not valid.
I was fortunate enough to sit in on a meeting between Indiana INTERNnet and the Indiana Commission for Higher Education a few weeks ago. The two teams were huddled around a conference table, brainstorming solutions to a few issues that have arisen with the EARN Indiana program, which helps pay interns’ salaries at approved organizations. Everyone except me had worked closely on the EARN program and its logistics for quite some time. Because of their closeness to the issue, they continued to approach the problems at hand with similar solutions and were hitting similar roadblocks each time. It’s natural for people to end up with this type of tunnel vision. As an outsider to the program, I didn’t have it.
I saw things differently, and thought of something that might be able to solve all the issues at once. However, I let my status as a lowly intern get to me. I second-guessed myself and didn’t share right away. I thought, “I’m just an intern and all of these people are more familiar with the issue than I am, so there must be a reason they haven’t proposed the solution I’m thinking of,” and I sat there quietly for another ten minutes while they continued to throw out ideas. Finally, I realized that the worst thing that could happen if I shared my idea was that they would say it couldn’t work. The worst thing that could happen if I didn’t share my idea would be that they wouldn’t find anything that could work. Remember, as an intern you’re there because your company needs you, not just because you need them. So, I spoke up.
They were surprised that they hadn’t considered something like what I was proposing, and everyone agreed they would do some research to see if the change could be implemented. Whether my idea actually ends up being used or not is not important. What’s important is that I ignored my inner saboteur (Shout-out to RuPaul for this phrasing) and used my unique perspective as an intern to help the organizations involved.
In the process, I made an impression on the strangers in the room, which resulted in an expansion of my network and an increase in my confidence as a young professional. I’ve learned a lot throughout my internship so far, but an integral lesson for me has been to never underestimate the power of my voice.
This doesn’t just apply to meetings either. As I’ve talked about before, I’ve been working to make more connections in my industry and that’s not always easy. It involves sending a lot of emails to people who are way higher up on the totem pole than myself, and it can be super nerve-wracking to do so. I’ll admit that not every email I’ve sent has been successful. Just yesterday, I spent a good deal of time crafting a carefully worded message just to be rejected within minutes. However, it’s done far more good for my career to be a little bolder and a little less afraid of reaching out to people. I’ve had three coffee meetings in the last month, and I have two more next week, all with the goal of meeting new people and learning more about the various sectors of the communications industry. Because I wasn’t afraid to ask for an introduction or for half an hour of someone’s time, I’ve come away with some great advice and more contacts.
I’m moving up in my field, climbing one rung of the ladder at a time, because I’m no longer afraid to let people know when I need something from them or when I think I could offer something for their organization, like a solution to a problem in a meeting. I would advise any of my fellow students to do what I’ve been trying to do.
Speak up and you’ll move up.
UPDATE: As of August 15, the Commission for Higher Education did decide to utilize my suggestion! So there’s some official proof for you that your ideas should not be underestimated.