(Photo courtesy of salon.com)

By JULIA KLEE, Copy Editor

When I interviewed for my first internship, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. No one interviewing for their first internship really does. I am no expert, but I have interviewed for several internships, worked as an intern for four different corporations and one non-profit organization. I highly recommend finding an internship. My internships have been my favorite part of my college years, allowing me to have a choice in what I do with my career and where I live after graduation.
Here are some things I have observed along the way.

You will be a minority.

You may not realize it, but we’re lucky at UM-Dearborn to be exposed to an extremely diverse range of age groups and cultures. I have retirees, high school students, non-traditional students and people my age in several of my classes.

In a corporation, as a traditional student you will probably be significantly younger than the majority of your peers. You probably watch different TV shows, have different political views and spend your free time very differently from your peers. Side conversations in the office revolve around world events, sports and family. The automotive industry is still very male-dominated. I’m the only girl in my office besides our administrative assistant and we have around 50 people at the location.

As much as you may think people keep their personal lives to themselves in the workplace, people are people. I probably could tell you the hometown of each of my coworkers, along with the number of kids and/or dogs in their homes.  

I’d suggest getting something low-maintenance like a fish or cat and keeping their picture at your desk, you know, for when your coworkers whip out pictures of their kids.

Patience is a virtue.

Working for a corporation is very different from posting on Facebook or submitting homework assignments online. Fifty people don’t like your PowerPoint after you send it out after a meeting. There isn’t a lot of instant gratification. You can’t start something, finish it an hour later, submit it and forget it for the rest of your life. It’s not uncommon for projects at a company to go on for years. You have to be ready to defend and explain your work. There’s a reason for all those group projects in your business classes, responsibilities are shared among multiple departments at a corporation. Be patient and willing to collaborate.

Everyone will give you advice.

I’m pretty sure every manager I’ve ever had has given me really great career and personal advice. Like I mentioned above, you’re probably much younger than your coworkers. They’ve done this song and dance before. Sure, things change, but they’ve made their share of mistakes and have had their successes. Be willing to listen.

Details matter.

Professionalism can set you apart from others. Dressing like you take your job seriously and being able to carry yourself well is hard. Giving presentations in front of important people is hard. We’re just starting our careers, so the pressure to be professional isn’t really as strong. It’s a lot better to learn when people aren’t paying that much attention to you than when all eyes are on you. This is the time to learn.

You can do what you want.

From a developmental perspective, you can really do whatever you want. Every company I’ve worked for has been very flexible. If there was something I wanted to learn, see or try, it was just a matter of finding the right people to ask. Companies want you to figure out where you fit best, because if you’re happy, you stay around and help them perform better as a whole.

Mistakes will not get you fired.

Provided your mistakes aren’t illegal or against your company’s code of conduct, managers almost expect interns to make mistakes.  It’s okay to ask questions. It’s silly to be nervous about starting an internship. People expect you to have no idea what you are doing and then are pleasantly surprised when you have a clue. Not trying or not asking questions is the worst thing you could do.

Breaking up isn’t really that hard to do.

Like in your romantic life, saying goodbye to a company isn’t going to end your life or career. This is the time to check out your potential suitors. Figure out what kind of company culture or industry suits you best. As a college student, no one is going to think you are confused or misguided for trying out new things and no one is going to call you heartless for dropping a company for their more attractive cousin who treats you better. Keep your best interests in mind.

Utilizing technology can put you ahead.

This is a trick I learned interning. Part of my role included tracking news coverage of our company utilizing Google Alerts. All job search sites allow you to have emails sent to you that match your job and location criteria. Set news alerts for the company you work for and jobs that could be out there. This allows you to stay just as up-to-date with your company as you do with your friends on social media.

It’s time to establish your values.

I know it is hard to know what you want, but try to figure out what kind of person you are. Are you an individual worker, do you like to travel, does money mean a lot to you, do you value work-life balance, etc. If you can figure out these things through your internships, you can narrow down what kind of jobs you look for once you near graduation.

Have a life.

Universities probably don’t want to hear this, but what you learn outside of the university is equally important as the things you learn in the classroom. In interviews, more people ask about my experience as an umpire or as a part of our school’s racing team than about being part of the Honors College. Work hard and manage a good GPA, but don’t obsess over it. There’s a pretty good chance your future manager and the person working in HR interviewing you didn’t have a 4.0. Even if it is just for the sake of good conversation, no one really wants to be around someone who does nothing but work or study.

If you have any questions, comments, or internship stories to share, reach out to me at jkklee@umich.edu.