Being an intern during college is one of the most rewarding experiences you can have. But to keep it real, it can also be one of the most stressful and anxiety-inducing things you can do.
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I landed my first internship during my sophomore year (an editorial internship at Bop and Tiger Beat magazines) and managed to do an internship pretty much every quarter after that. By the time I graduated, I’d completed seven in total. So I definitely know a thing or two about all the many ups and downs of the intern experience.
I was really privileged to have the internships I did. A majority of them were for well-known television networks and dealt with the more “fun” aspects of the entertainment industry (public relations and development). While those experiences provided me with some fun and memorable moments, no other internship left a lasting impression more than my summer internship before junior year.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t for the best reasons.
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Prior to that internship, my other experiences were pretty laid-back and strictly “for college credit only.” In other words, unpaid. So when the opportunity came for me to interview for an actual paid internship at a major company, I was beyond excited.
The internship was for the department that worked on all the alternative and reality programming on the network. That meant all the cooking shows, talent competitions, and awards shows.
This particular internship was also unique in the sense that interns not only worked with an executive assistant, but also directly with the vice president of the department as a sort of secondary assistant to her.
Because of that, I thought it would be an excellent way to get a sense of what being an executive assistant for an entertainment exec would really be like. If you’re interested in working for a studio or network in any department, that’s typically the entry-level job you compete for.
Overall, the interview went great. The VP’s assistant, who would technically be my direct supervisor, and I clicked right from the start, and the position seemed like a really impressive point to include on a resume.
As the interview went on, I grew more and more excited for the position. It seemed like the greatest opportunity. Until he asked, “How do you feel about working for someone who’s very…particular?”
At the time I brushed him off, saying I’ve worked for tough bosses before without any problems. It was true. I’ve had tough bosses, professors, and even teaching assistants before who had no problems with me because I worked hard and always strived to be the best. Not just my best, but the best. I figured if everyone else could appreciate and praise me for the work I did, why wouldn’t she?
Long story short, I got the internship and found out just how “particular” my new boss was.
As a woman who’d been working in the industry for decades, my boss had a reputation for being tough. Not difficult, mean, or bossy — just, tough.
Her assistants never stayed too long and with several large binders filled with specific rules and protocols for how she’d like her office to be run (i.e. you always have to notify her when you go to the restroom, answering the phone has to be done according to script, water bottles in her fridge should be placed with the label facing up, etc.), it wasn’t hard to see why.
Don’t get me wrong. She’s very nice. But she’s also very intimidating, especially if you don’t do things her way.
Her interns were pretty much expected to jump right in and learn as you go. When you’ve never worked in an office setting before, jumping right in isn’t easy.
In my first days as an intern, I managed to stupidly overwater her plants that were sitting on top of a bookshelf, which caused some binders full of show scripts to get wet.
In the middle of going through a long list of contact info to be updated in her files, I mistakenly added the wrong information for one person, which threw off the rest of the list. Because of that tiny mistake, I had to spend hours going back and correcting everything again.
In my first attempt at rolling calls, I somehow dropped a super important call she was on and couldn’t get the other person back on the line right away. She wasn’t too happy, and I was definitely made aware of that fact.
Now that I think of it, I actually screwed up a lot of phone calls during my time as an intern. When answering phones and rolling calls is one of your most important tasks, getting it wrong is a huge no-no.
I and the other intern who worked for her collectively failed so hard during our first few weeks that she berated not only us, but her assistant as well, for not training us properly. We were even told to create a digital handbook for future interns, temps, and assistants so no one would make the same mistakes we did ever again.
Small mistakes like accidentally inputting wrong information or forgetting that the boss likes her e-mails to be written with two spaces after every period instead of the usual one may not seem like a huge deal. But when you’re a perfectionist who craves approval and appreciation, it can be really tough on your mental well-being.
I started to get anxiety every time her assistant left to go to the bathroom or take a lunch break because that meant I had to handle phones for her. I didn’t want to mess that up and get talked to.
I became super paranoid over the simplest things, like sending e-mails and inputting data that I triple-checked before hitting send or save. During the hour-long commute home, I’d replay every conversation containing negative feedback over and over again in my head no matter how hard I tried to brush it off or drown it out.
I hated the fact that I wasn’t doing a “good job.” It wasn’t typical of me. It was so stressful that I dreaded waking up in the morning, and I thought about quitting nearly every other day. My thinking was, my previous internships were fun and my supervisors all loved me. This one just managed to stress me out every time I gave it a thought.
But did I quit? Of course not.
For one, I liked getting paid. To be honest, if this had been an unpaid internship, I probably would’ve been out there ASAP.
Luckily, the other intern felt the same way about wanting to do a good job, so we encouraged each other to keep moving forward with it.
But it wasn’t until after a mandatory workshop for all the interns in the company that I realized just how lucky I was to be in the position I was in.
How many students have the opportunity to work in a busy studio lot every other day? Not very many. How many interns get the opportunity to go through a rigorous program that essentially trains you to be an assistant anywhere in the industry? Even fewer.
Sure, my boss was tough. But pretty much everyone who worked in there knew how she trained her interns and assistants, so she was a great person to have on your side.
While my need to be perfect was definitely a driving factor in how my days went, I made another realization: I was going about internships all wrong.
I can’t pinpoint the exact moment, but somewhere in the middle of my internship I shifted my focus from trying to impress the boss to actually trying to learn something.
Up to that point, I had treated internships like major tests I needed to pass in order to prevent myself from being unemployed after graduation. After all, my cousin got a job offer right after graduation from an internship she did. Another intern I worked with at a previous internship landed a job the same way. So somehow it stuck in my brain that every internship opportunity I had was some sort of competition for an entry-level position. But it doesn’t always work that way.
In previous internships, where expectations were much lower, I had an easier time because I felt like I could show off, receive praise for my hard work, and my supervisors would keep me in mind for future opportunities. I never made it a point to really learn anything new because I stuck to the same routine tasks I knew were going to give me positive recognition. I never thought to learn more or grow, and because of that, I never felt challenged.
But internships are supposed to be learning opportunities. Once that really sunk in, I became more appreciative of the experience I had. As cheesy as it sounds, that made going to work seem like less of a chore and more like an adventure. And after a lunch and a meeting with my boss right before my internship ended, I found out just how much she appreciated having me as an intern.
If you’re worried about failing or not doing a good job at your internship, don’t. I survived seven of them. I’m sure you definitely can make it through at least one.