Imagine this for a minute. You graduate college and head to a different state to start a Master’s Degree. You have a week to move yourself, your pong table, your jar of loose change, and everything else you own. A week after moving, you start interviewing for internships with local governments and hope you land one. You have been told repeatedly that an internship is a MUST. The voice in the head keeps telling you, “you need that on the job training if you want to be taken seriously.”
You get the internship. Congrats! You start working. You may or may not be getting paid. You may or may not have an office with a functional computer. A few days into your internship, you realize that working in local government is challenging. Heck this is your first “big kid job.” A year goes by in a blur. You aren’t entirely sure what happened as you were concerned about balancing school and job demands. You also were concerned about your resume, professional development, performance reviews, and the looming fear of having to compete for jobs with every person in your class. This is the Intern Problem.
Hi, my name is Laura Lake and I am an Intern for the Village of Morton Grove, Illinois. I am also a student at Northern Illinois University (NIU) where I am in the final semester of my Masters of Public Administration program. I have worked for Morton Grove for the past year and a half and have learned a lot within that time.
The scenario that I mentioned above has happened to a lot of us. It’s rarely discussed among interns, managers, professors, program directors – we just all deal in our own way. There isn’t open dialogue about how difficult it is and there isn’t a lot of advice that is offered. Maybe you are one of those lucky interns that has a great manager who helps guide you through. Maybe though… you aren’t one of those lucky people. By the time you are comfortable enough to ask for advice, it is too late.
There is a need for “intern information” which I realized when I got an email from another student at NIU who was in her first year. She asked how to get involved with professional development within our field. My answer: even though it is uncomfortable and can be an odd experience – especially for someone who is new to the field and hasn’t developed a network – it crucial for you professionally and personally. It was after talking to her though that I realized …. How would someone new to the field, especially a new student know any of this?
As a new intern I spent my fair share of time confused. I heard the buzzwords “professional development” but didn’t comprehend how it related to my situation. I wish I had understood that I (the intern) had the power to make my internship what I wanted it to be. I didn’t realize how important a having a strong mentorship is, and I wasn’t 100% sure to the best way to handle conflict or criticism.. It’s these areas that I will address in upcoming articles of “From the Desk of the Intern” column.
It is my hope to bring some advice and tips from experience and professionals about topics we are all wondering about. Hopefully this will help take away some of the anxiety you might be feeling. Don’t worry, I felt it too. Luckily, I had people who believed in me and helped show me the right direction.
Finally, I issue you a 5-minute challenge. Take 5-minutes to send me an email with your first internship experience and at least one tip for maximizing the opportunity. I’ll incorporate the advice into future articles.