Through the help of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund I was able to participate in an all-expenses paid internship program with the United States Department of Agriculture. In all honesty I wasn’t quite sure how big of a role a mass communication major would have at the USDA. Though I was grateful I accepted the offer with a hint of reluctance and packed my bags for Riverdale, Md.
My start was rocky because I didn’t think it was the right fit for me, but now that it is nearing the end of my 10-week internship I have found myself reflecting on how much I have learned and grown because of my experience.
Not only has my internship given me hands-on experience in the workplace, it has also inspired my future career goals. Realizing the impact of this experience has given me the drive and motivation to seek out more worthwhile opportunities for the future. I hope what I took away from my summer will motivate others to reach for the same!
Here’s what I learned:
- Don’t pretend to know what you don’t know.
This was my first legitimate internship. I was nervous to say the least. I didn’t want to fail or feel like an idiot. I soon realized, however, that it was important to be honest with myself and my coworkers. Skills and abilities are not finite things. Just because you don’t know something at the moment doesn’t mean you can’t learn it. If you don’t know something don’t pretend to know it because here’s a secret; people will treat you like you know it.
- Be your own advocate.
For the first week or so I wallowed in my cubicle. I didn’t seem completely fulfilled by the work I was doing and I wanted to do something that resonated with me and my interests. People aren’t going to read the look on your face and magically figure out what it is you want. As the old saying goes, “a closed mouth don’t get fed.” If you want something, say something. The worst thing someone can say is no. So if you want to explore a different department, have some input during a staff meeting, or want to shadow a particular person, advocate to get the most of your experience.
- Smile. Be friendly. Network!
This lesson applies to every single person you come across. I’m just as friendly, polite and respectful to the maintenance staff as I am to the chief of my department. Although networking is important, not every interaction has to be seen as business connection. Be nice just for the sake of being a good person. That will get you far.
- Ask questions.
“There’s no such thing as a stupid question.” Another cliché to live by. Ask questions pertaining to your job. Ask questions pertaining to the company. To your department. To your coworkers career paths. Even ask questions in regards to your performance. You can never ask too many questions.
- Be open-minded.
I had a defeatist mindset about my internship before it even began because I didn’t think it was the right fit for me. I lacked the ability to be open-minded. Open yourself up to whatever opportunity it is that you’re given. If you’re willing to receiving you will be rewarded, but only you can make that happen. If a task seems odds, pointless or a waste of your time, just know that it isn’t.
- Pay is a perk, experience is the goal.
This summer I was fortunate for the fact that I had a paid internship, however, this fall I will be transitioning to an unpaid internship. In all honesty I have no ill feelings toward that because in the end it is all about the experience you gain. That is payment in itself.
- You’re representing more than just yourself.
Always remember that wherever you intern you are brining your brand with you. That brand doesn’t just include your name, but whatever college or university you associate with. It is no secret that so many try and bas the HBCU community and name, but let’s prove ourselves wherever we go.
- Don’t underestimate your opportunity.
Although internships are temporarily, their impact lasts forever. Interning creates an opportunity to shake hands with the right people and show them what you’re capable of. Just because your internship is limited to a summer or semester doesn’t mean the impression you’ve made on people ends there too. Be memorable in the right way!
- It’s okay not to have your future figured out.
People are going to ask you where you see yourself in five years. They will ask you what you plan on doing with your major. You will feel pressured to have your life planned out until you 93, but don’t. Take your time and soak up the knowledge and experience. At the end of an internship you might realize what you did all summer is NOT what you want to do in your future. That’s the beauty of it, now you know. The point of you internship is not to have it figured out, it’s a step in the direction of figuring it out.