Friday, December 31st, 2010

Give Your Internship the Priority it Deserves

Student Internships

Don’t become known as the waffle guy at your internship.

Reputations don’t happen by accident. Not good ones anyway. They are made by good decisions and strong actions. Your first big work-placement or internship is also the first bricks you’ll lay in building your professional reputation—for better or for worse.

A few years back I worked with a student who showed tremendous potential. He was smart and creative. The management team was optimistic about him so we made the decision to invest additional resources in his training. This is the absolute best situation for interns, because good results can be parlayed into even better assignments. This assumes, of course, that he didn’t screw it up.

One morning this likable student failed to arrive at 8:00 AM as expected.

Over two hours later, he arrived without explanation and casually proceeded to his desk. He seemed genuinely unconcerned with the time. We stopped him in route and inquired about the cause of his late arrival. He gave an answer that he thought was a perfectly rational justification for his tardiness: waffles.

Our bright student explained that he was delayed because his mother insisted on making homemade waffles for him that morning. Presumably his academic and professional responsibilities yielded to the weight of warm, syrup covered breakfast foods.

Our inner thoughts were revealed by our gaping mouths and furrowed brows. We initially assumed he was stuck in traffic. By 8:30 we wondered if he was experiencing car troubles. By 9:00 we assumed that his cell phone battery was dead since we hadn’t heard from him. As time passed his unexpected absence was noted by other people in the office. By 9:45 everyone knew he was late and concern grew. Some people began to worry that our student might have been in an accident of some sort. Someone suggested we pull his emergency contact number.

It is often said that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. That may be sound nutritional guidance, but it isn’t great career advice.

The bottom line for this student was that he was soon known as “the waffle guy.” It’s one thing to be late because you stayed home to eat the waffles your mother made for you. It’s quite another to be foolish enough to admit that fact to an office full of people who have been working hard since 8 AM.

Internships are great if you know how to leverage the opportunity. Many professional firms understand the value of connecting with students. These firms want to work with bright and enthusiastic scholars and seek out interns and part-time student employees.

The relationships are successful because they are classic win-win scenarios. Employers strengthen their position by engaging energetic people with fresh insights, eagerness and a genuine desire to learn and make a contribution. Students make professional contacts and gain valuable experience that can lay a strong foundation for a successful professional career.

Many interns go away and create brilliant careers. Others simply go away. With good decisions and strong action, you can make the most of your opportunity. Play it safe though, and save the waffles for the weekend.

You can tell how well you have done during your internship by the questions your employer asks you when it concludes. If you are asked if you would consider joining their company after graduation, you’ve done superbly. If you are asked if you need any butter or maple syrup, you probably did not fare as well.

Charles Gillis
Author: Charles Gillis
Charles Gillis is the Executive Director of a law firm based in Dallas. He received his BA and MBA from the University of Texas.
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