Interns must properly navigate career world

Being an office lackey isn’t as glamorous as movies would lead audiences to believe. In reality, you won’t be fetching coffee while juggling mail and miscellaneous files. You will, however, be subjected to harsh criticism of your proud work. You will have to do tasks with minimal instruction and cooperate with petty coworkers.

As USC students, we are presented with many networking opportunities. The Trojan Family has an extensive reach into nearly all career fields.

The difficulty lies in knowing what to do with these connections. Approaching potential employers for internships and other career opportunities requires subtle assertiveness. You don’t want to seem arrogant; instead, you want to show that you’re the right fit for the position by simultaneously displaying humility and confidence. This requires sufficient familiarity with the field in which you’re interested and that you conduct yourself in a direct yet positive manner.

Before accepting your position, don’t let any details surprise you. Informed queries about office logistics will show that you are actively thinking about responsibilities. If you do this, your employer will view you as an asset, rather than a clueless amateur.

It goes without saying that you should know whether your internship is paid or unpaid — kind of a major selling point — and what exactly your position entails. Though your employer is doing you a favor by giving you the chance to work, you are also offering your own services and need to make sure the position has some sort of upward mobility that will benefit you.

Additionally, it’s important to establish the amount of time you’ll be working there. Some employers have predetermined intern time periods that coincide with school semesters or seasonal quarters. Whatever the case, be sure you know where you stand. Nothing is worse than finding out from your absent-minded superior that your internship is about to end, leaving you scrambling to find your next endeavor — especially if this meeting occurs by accident when you bump into him or her as you’re making your way to the copy machine.

Interviews are tricky. If you’re lucky, you’ll feel an instant click with your interviewer and the conversation will flow freely.

Arm yourself with knowledge about the company for which you’re interviewing; the more obscure and specific the fact, the better. Casually drop in a piece of quirky company history and you’ll be golden.

“Yeah, I remember using your search engine when it was called Backrub. Ah, the good old days!” you might say during an interview with Google.

For the smoothest sailing, steer toward mutual interests while demonstrating how knowledgeable you are about the field at hand. Unfortunately, this isn’t always possible. Slip-ups do occur, so avoid touchy subjects at all costs: religion, politics and even the Chipotle-versus-Freebirds debate are off-limits.

Once you get the position — assuming you didn’t screw up the interview — the fun actually starts. Now is when you must adapt to an environment that might or might not take you seriously. Developing a close relationship with one or two mentor figures is crucial. By developing a repertoire with someone more experienced, you’ll learn the tricks of the trade and have a future resume reference and networking contact.

But you must be wary of office politics. Every working environment has its own dynamic; there are power struggles, fragile egos and entrenched traditions. You’ll have to pick up on the local customs while also not angering anyone who can influence the positive reputation you want to foster. For example, using the office kitchen is an earned privilege — don’t assume the top shelf of the fridge is all yours, because your snacks will be eaten mercilessly. On that note, bring good snacks and you’ll be a bigger hit than the kid with Lunchables on the playground.

Always remember, however, that you’re still an intern. You exist to make the jobs of those around you easier and your tasks won’t always seem important. Even a menial task, however, should be done to the best of your ability. This will show you’re dedicated to optimizing the result of any task assigned.

As for your attitude, enthusiasm and curiosity go a long way, but so does respect. Ask questions, but also know your limits. Make an effort to set aside time with your superiors to talk to them; inquire about their career path and what you can do in yours to achieve what you want. If you’re comfortable, offer to take your boss out to lunch. The personal connection and potential bonding will be appreciated and he or she will be more willing to assist you.

Being a successful intern is all about furthering your connections and learning all you can from the situation at hand. Top-quality work remains the best way to impress your employers; charm only goes so far.

It isn’t easy being at the bottom of the totem pole, but with patience and perseverance, your internship will pay off. Keep in mind your goals and constantly evaluate what your next career move will be — nobody wants an intern who is content with being an intern. Always ask for more work, seek out criticism, make mistakes and learn from them — do anything but sit around complacently.


Nick Cimarusti is a junior majoring in English and Spanish. His column “Get Schooled” runs Mondays.

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