Understanding the Dynamic of an Internship in a Small Company

In every college class, you probably receive a neatly organized and concise syllabus that outlines what you will be accomplishing, when you will be accomplishing it, and what is expected of you. This system is effective in giving students a glimpse of what to expect and a baseline for when to take action if the class begins to veer in the wrong direction. The syllabus dictates the pace of the class, outlines what is needed in advance, and allows students adequate time to prepare and distribute the workload of the class. To say that internships do not follow this system is an understatement.

Most students enter internships with little information on how the company they work for operates. Students can be in the dark about what their role will be, what the workload will be like, or what is expected of them. Understanding that the way one learns in an internship, as opposed to in a classroom, is a huge part of having a successful internship.

When I began my internship I was given ZERO information besides my start date. I didn’t know what my hours would be like, with whom I’d be working with on a daily basis, what my expected prior knowledge was, or even what to wear. In order to combat this lack of information, I did the obvious: I asked! Don’t worry about being bothersome, seeming unintelligent, or lacking common sense. Take initiative, ask questions, and be prepared.

Once you begin your internship you may find that your direct superiors don’t know what to do with you. They may not have work for you to do right away, they may not have a plan for your time there, and they are about as informed about what you’re doing there as you are. This isn’t anyone’s fault; your direct superiors’ job title isn’t ‘Intern coordinator’ and they have their own priorities and work to take care of.

Essentially, the difference here is that your internship has no syllabus. Your coworkers didn’t have the time to arrange neatly organized assignments spanning several months, nor is this really even feasible, as businesses often can’t anticipate what the company will be seeing in terms of workflow. If you understand this, your internship won't seem slow. The best way to combat this effect is to communicate effectively your skill set and what you excel at and ask for work to do (seems counterintuitive, I know!). Make yourself useful and prove that you are reliable. If you do that, the work will begin to find you!

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