Being an intern is a tough position to be in for one reason (although you could probably come up with several.) This is the ideal time to make mistakes because you are there first and foremost to learn and grow as a professional. Because you are learning by actual experience and not by sitting in a classroom, you are getting advice from people working in the profession right now – if you have professors who are retired from the field, there are some things they may be rusty on. (For example, I’m going into journalism, a professor who hasn’t worked for 10, or even 5 years would be so far behind on what the internet/social media has done for journalism.)
BUT, here’s the problem: when you’re an intern you feel like you can’t make a mistake no matter how minute. Maybe it is because being inexperienced can make being critiqued feel harsh or personal even though it usually isn’t and is ultimately for your benefit. Or maybe it is because you want to leave with the best impression possible. Your intern supervisors will hopefully be there in the future to offer you a job or write you a recommendation.
My first experience as an intern was last summer at my local newspaper. I was given the full responsibility of a staff writer and was expected to meet the same standard (honestly an intern’s dream – no getting coffees and filing papers.) But my first assignment I really struggled with. I had no idea what they wanted and handed in an unfinished, messy, piece of … well you know. My supervisor worked with me to get it to where it needed to be, and although I knew she wasn’t being mean, I felt awful. I started to tear up and she saw it, which really only made me more embarrassed. I went home that night and actually contemplated if I had what it takes to be a writer, something I have wanted to do since elementary school. I really thought my dream was over. The next day, my supervisor took me for coffee and basically said, Hey, that was a great learning experience and it has nothing to do with your actual potential. I realized she was right and every piece I wrote for them after that was better than the one before.
Now that I find myself as an editorial intern at a magazine, I still struggle with handling critique. When I hand something in that I’m proud of and it gets a lot of edits, it is hard to not feel like in some way, I failed. And how could you possibly be so proud of something and then it flops?
I don’t know when – if ever – that feeling goes away. Possibly with time you learn to embrace it a little more, or you learn to fix the mistakes you’ve been making and then your work doesn’t get edited nearly as much.
Being an intern, though it can be stressful (and usually unpaid) is one of the best things you can do for yourself before you graduate college. If it isn’t required by your school, you should still look into it. Do a quick search for entry level jobs in the field you want to go into and you’ll see how a lot of them require experience. Entry level used to actually mean entry level, but it doesn’t anymore. (Obviously this can vary by field.)
I’m still on a long road of learning but I know this summer will benefit my future. If you’re questioning whether you should intern, my advice is to absolutely do it and don’t be discouraged if something doesn’t work out the way you thought it would.