If you’re a smart intern, then you want to be like my buddy Philip Zimmerly, who was a law student when we met several years ago at a federal agency where I worked. To this day, I still use him as an example when I’m talking to new interns.
From the moment Philip arrived, he was eager to complete any assignment that we handed to him. The problem for Philip was that the summer started off rather slowly, and that meant he got assignments that probably could’ve been completed by a college sophomore, but apparently, Philip didn’t see that as a problem. He would complete one of his less-than-exciting projects and ask for another one (with a smile on his face).
Before the summer was over, our office had an out-of-state trial, and Philip was asked to help, which was a very rare opportunity for an intern. But after the way we had seen him work on all those little projects that summer, he was a natural pick. That trial experience ended up being a significant gold star on his résumé that helped him move on to bigger things, including the great job he has today.
Now maybe you don’t want to be like Philip. Maybe you want to be one of the millions of interns who show up at offices all over the world, make a ho-hum impression, and are quickly forgotten after leaving. If that’s you, I’ve got good news: Being a lame intern is much easier than being like Philip, so if that’s what you want to do, here are five easy ways to accomplish your mission:
1. Stay connected to social media and your phone. This one is a breeze. All you have to do is be observed using social media once while at work, and you’ll probably be seen as a slacker. You could also achieve the same result by having unnecessary conversations on your cell phone, being seen furiously texting your plans for the evening, and plugging your ear buds into your head and listening to music while you work. Here’s what all of this communicates: I don’t want to be here because I’ve got better things to do than work — things like typing “LOL” and liking my friend Taylor’s selfie.
2. Keep it negative. With this one, all you have to do is complain — about anything. You don’t even have to whine, just bring up things that aren’t to your liking. For example, you could mention the fact that none of the staplers seem to work, the copy machine is a dinosaur, or there’s nowhere good to eat in the area — whatever. In fact, if you really want to hit it out of the park with this one, critique other people: other interns, the cleaning staff or an unpopular person in the office. Here’s why it’s so off-putting: Most people are only interested in hearing the negative opinions of the people they respect. You are an intern, and like it or not, you haven’t earned anyone’s respect, so when you share any of your negative opinions, it just makes you look presumptuous and insecure.
3. Dress for failure. Ladies, go in with your hair looking like a rat’s nest. Guys, wear your favorite ugly flip-flops (and don’t trim your toenails). Basically, as a general rule, whatever the standard is for everyone else, just make sure you go a little below it. After all, you’re an intern, and you just came from class. It’s not like you work there full time. And guess what. You never will.
4. Ignore correction. When you make a mistake and you are corrected, just nod your head and agree with whatever’s being said, but don’t get too worked up over it. If you repeat the mistake, your supervisor will understand, right? Wrong. Repeating mistakes that have been brought to your attention conveys that you are not listening, and not listening conveys disrespect. No supervisor is going to hire someone whom they perceive as disrespectful.
5. Get there when you can. Look, you’re not getting paid to be there, so arrive at your earliest convenience. And if you need to slip out before quitting time, just make sure you tell someone. This is a great way to let your supervisor know that you won’t make a very good employee, and here’s why: A person who gets there late, takes long lunches, and leaves early obviously doesn’t want to be there. And if you don’t want to be there, then your employer won’t want you there either. Congrats.
Listen, I hope you break all five of those rules when you get that internship. I want you to be the next Philip Zimmerly, to be someone who not only succeeds at your temporary, unpaid position, but a person who, like Philip, goes on to be successful in life as well. And what that’s going to require is that you apply the words of Jesus to your work experience: “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much” (Luke 16:10, ESV). Yes, an internship is a “little,” but it can go a long way toward your being entrusted with “much,” so take it as seriously as you do your future, because the future of your career may depend on it.