Want To Nail Your Internship? Fake It ‘Til You Make It

To quote Mary Katherine Gallagher, a character from the Bruce McCollogh movie Superstar starring Molly Shannon and Will Ferrell: “There are two ways to get into the water. First you take your toe and you gently test the water’s temperature, and if that feels okay, then you slowly get in, letting your body adjust to the cold. Then there’s this way- you JUMP!”

I’d say that this quote describes my usual approach in life.  Careful preparation just isn’t my way, and my first internship was no exception.  I found the position online.  I suppose I could have gone through some of the more traditional channels like my school’s Career Development office.  There, I’m sure, they would have helped me to carefully fine tune my resume and carefully guided me through a long list of options, perhaps even helping me hone my interview skills.  But, as stated before, I’m always restless to just jump in.

I didn’t believe that I really “faked it until I made it,” until I considered what a big step that was.  As a college freshman in a state where I knew no one, having taken no major-specific courses whatsoever, I Googled “marketing internships,” found a company, and decided I was fit for the job.  Did I know, empirically, that I was qualified for this position?  No.  I just wanted the experience.  That’s what internships are for: doing what you want to do before anyone has had a chance to question whether you are fit to do it.

My internship at an affiliate marketing (that’s coupons, for the layperson) company was a great place to start.  I learned so much about how offices work, how business communication takes place, and made some great networking connections.  I even got a bit of writing experience when I got to create some personal finance posts for the website’s blog.   Sometimes, I would attend staff meetings at our office.  I hardly said a word, especially in the first weeks of my internship, but I took lots of notes.  I got a sense of how people in this office communicated.  After a while, I felt comfortable enough to make suggestions outside of the meetings to my immediate superiors.  This showed that I was listening, and that I was an asset to the company.

Internships are learning experiences.  You don’t have to pretend to know what you don’t know.  Faking it ’til you make it means making yourself comfortable and going with the flow so that you can observe and get a sense of what is going on until you feel comfortable to take initiative.  I think that people get so caught up in how competitive the process of finding an internship can be that they forget that an intern does not play the same role as an employee.  An intern is allowed to observe and be unsure sometimes, provided she shows she’s doing her best.  Even when the tasks you’re being assigned seem complicated, don’t balk at them. Allow yourself to feel unsure on the inside without acting on those feelings, because rationally you know that you can do this.  Everyone starts somewhere.  The person teaching you how to do your job once struggled with it as well.  At the end of my internship, I trained the intern who was coming on for the next term.  All of the tasks that once seemed so difficult were now so easy I had to slow myself down so that she could observe me at a comfortable pace.  I was glad, in the end, that I faked it until I made it: that I jumped right into my internship without giving myself the chance to be unsure of my own qualifications.  I had had a wonderful ride.

So, if you’re heading off to your first internship, don’t worry.  Act like you’ve got this and pretty soon it won’t even be an act anymore.

Image via Kristen M. Bryant

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