More Than Just An Intern :: A Transitionary Student's Guide

There's a bit of excitement that comes with getting an internship. Will you be creating award-winning advancements that get noticed by the whole company? Or maybe you'll be stuck in the elevator with the CEO and get a chance to present your elevator pitch you've been perfecting since Freshman year. Or maybe the reality is that you end up being the one-stop coffee runner for your team, and while perfect at it you know you are so much more.
I was one step away from being the coffee runner a couple of times because I was advised it would be a great way to get my foot in the door. When I look back, I was really only okay with this because I didn't see my own potential that I could bring right then. More so, by accepting a menial task I would have perpetuated the company's limited perception of what an intern could and should be. And in that moment, I missed the entire point of internships in the first place:
Internships Help You Build Skills
I've talked with countless recruiters and job applicants who note that some of the biggest skills are soft skills that show you'll fit in with the team and be driven by intrinsic, genuine curiosity. From a company standpoint the hard skills can be learned on-the-job, but you have to start with a motivation to learn them in the first place. In fact, when I interned this past summer at Intel I likely learned more applicable marketing knowledge than I did in my semester-long marketing class. It's not to say that classes aren't great places to learn, but without the proper environment all of this information goes from the textbook, to the brain, to the paper, and then settles out.
If possible, try to take really hands-on courses whose discussions pull from current industry events in your final semester before graduation. You'll be up-to-date on what you need to know to make a smooth transition into the workforce. However, if you are unable to take a course like this nothing is stopping you from keeping up with current events on your own. Some great resources to start are this list, and news highlighting sites like TheSkimm, and Finimize.
Now being a few internships in, I recognize that all of my fears of not being "valuable" enough were completely misguided because:
  1. I have more experience than I give myself credit for. I find myself wondering if I should stay humble and never think I'm where I need to be so that I constantly push to be more (sound familiar?), or stop and recognize all the hard work that's gotten me to where I am now. It seems that there's some social stigma of giving self-compliments, but everyone needs to hear they've done a good job - even if it's from themself. 
  2. Not everybody is a child genius and that's okay. When I was in high school, the pool of students was so competitive that a chunk of the class was transferred to a separate school for "gifted students." In college, valedictorians, entrepreneurs, and celebrities became my peers. It was easy for me to think that everybody else was doing more than me, because the people who were voicing their greatest achievements tended to belong in some of these groups. But as I started having deeper discussions with other students, it was evident that we all felt the same - less than because we hadn't changed the world before we entered our senior year of college.
I have a feeling that even the valedictorians feel inadequate at times. That's part of this society that we've built where we always have an underlying need to compare ourselves to someone better. So, for as long as there's a student with a 4.0 GPA, who founded their own company while working 3 part-time jobs and leading 2 student organizations, the student with the 4.0 GPA who did all the same but only led 1 student organization will never be enough.
How crazy is that?
I started making changes in the way I viewed my own worth after a professional panel at school. "I never worked an unpaid internship," one of the panelists proclaimed. Now extraordinarily successful in the entertainment industry, this woman had realized that if she would be doing the same job as someone getting paid, then she should be paid, too.
We volunteer for free out of the kindness of our hearts to give back into the world. We work, in part, for economic opportunity. We get paid for our opinions with the belief that we can solve a problem worth paying to find the answer to. It's a two-way street, but at the end of the day the only way to make this employer-employee relationship work is to know your worth, live up to it, and grow your worth by growing your skills, both hard and soft. You have to believe you are more than just an intern; you are the future.
A Transitionary Student's Guide follows University of Southern California senior Tiara Conley through the 2017-2018 school year as she navigates the transition between college and full-time work. She draws upon both her own experiences and research to give real advice as never told before. Think someone else could benefit from this series? Share it with #TSG2018 and get ready for the next monthly post: Skill-less to Skillset.

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