I'd never had an internship before coming to Shanghai. Considering that I'm an NYU junior this may seem a little weird perhaps (and also somewhat shameful), but it's true nonetheless. So, I was willing and a little excited, but also anxious, when I was set up with a local company in Shanghai through my Internship Seminar, even though the initial process was almost too easy and convenient.
As an undergraduate, after all, you hear a lot of terrible stories about internships. Interns often suffer the grumbling work (not necessarily meaningful work either) and get used for free labor in the workplace. But, as a resume-booster and some networking opportunity, students feel obliged to undergo the treacherous path of interning.
What ended up happening for me, though, was the complete opposite of my expectations, and in the best possible way.
Working for a small Shanghai-based marketing company, the Bergstrom Group, I was able to get familiar with my colleagues without any problems. Communicating was comfortable within the first few weeks, since I talked one-on-one with each individual in the office. The work I did in the office and occasionally at home all benefited the company in some direct way. In other words, I wasn’t doing unnecessary and tedious work. I was a part of the company, for however few months.
As a result, I discovered my interest in marketing. I had always liked the concept and theoretical ideas of the field, but never had experience or first-hand observations of its inner workings. Between working at a marketing company and taking Intro to Marketing, I realized how enthusiastic I was about the professional field.
Because I have benefited from and enjoyed my internship experience in Shanghai so much, I wanted to compile a short list of some tips for anyone else who wants to make the most of their internship experience, not exclusively in Shanghai. Hope you find them useful!
Be open-minded. You’re interested in the entertainment industry and have experience in it, but why not try something more PR-focused? Every industry has elements of others, and getting a taste of how other industries use the same skills and concepts will help you discover new things, and perhaps a new interest. While you may want to bump up your resume with finance internships, diversifying your experience is likewise crucial to professional growth.
Don’t be (too) nervous.You need some amount of assertiveness in order to get the internship you want and get what you want out of it. Don’t stand on the sidelines when you’re doing something for your internship that you don’t think is benefiting you or them. If you want to do something else and have good reason for it, tell your supervisor and they’re likely to understand. Even if they don’t switch your role, it never hurts to try. At least they will know that you aren’t afraid to speak up if something’s wrong.
Choose a small company. You will gain deeper personal relationships with your co-workers, and you won’t feel uncomfortable in the working environment if you have problems with anything. Networking will also be easier. This way, you won’t get lost in the mix as ‘just another intern.’ You’ll do work that counts toward something for the company.
Communicate. Know who is your supervisor, who is your boss, who is your colleague, and who is your fellow intern. And get to know everyone’s names! Don’t be afraid to ask who is who, because you want to make sure you report to the right person. If you’re working in a multi-language environment, know it. If you know the other language, and if it is easier for your colleagues to use that language, be prepared to use it as your primary communicating tool. If you don’t know the other language, make sure that they know that, too!
Understand your tasks. If you have any questions, ask! If you’re sitting around unsure of what you’re really supposed to do, don’t waste time: ask your supervisor! They will be thankful that you’re trying to do the best that you can instead of producing something not at all what they wanted. Ask for examples of similar completed tasks.
Be independent and mature. Yes, making sure you’re doing your task correctly is important, but don’t bother your colleagues too much. You’re still in a working environment and a professional workplace, keep that in mind. Some working environments will be more formal than others, so stay observant to office etiquette when starting your internship, and abide by them. While a break is always nice every once in a while, be efficient and keep deadlines in mind, especially if they involve a greater part of the company.
Keep in touch. Don’t get lost after your internship is over. Never mind that you probably will develop positive relationships with your colleagues (hopefully, anyway), you want to make sure you keep in contact with them in case something comes up in the future. What might come up? Who knows, but be prepared for it.