Recently, a fellow public relations student that I follow on Twitter posed the question: What’s something you’ve learned at your summer internship so far? It was an opportunity to spark discussion among everyone in his following about the benefits of being an intern, and I found it intriguing. I’ve been with Indiana INTERNnet for just over a month now, but it feels (in the best way) like I’ve been a part of the team for a long time. In the last month, I’ve learned several things, and I continue to learn every day, but whittling all my experiences down into one lesson seemed difficult. Then it dawned on me – speak up.
I could tell you a handful of things that are highly specific to my internship and my industry, but the best advice I can give that is applicable to interns in any field is to not be afraid to use your voice. There are exceptions to everything of course, and I’m sure that some interns might not feel comfortable speaking up in the ways that I have due to how their employer functions. It’s easy to feel like your opinion doesn’t matter or that it’s not your place to share since you’re ‘just’ an intern. However, most of the time that is a mistake. As Avery Blank wrote in a recent Forbes article, “Your opinion is your power.” You have the benefit of seeing from a perspective that is totally different from anyone else who works in at your organization.
Yes, you are a student and an intern. No, that doesn’t mean your perspective, and the subsequent ideas that you have from seeing things the way you do, are not valid.
For example, I was fortunate enough to sit in on a recent meeting between Indiana INTERNnet and the Indiana Commission for Higher Education (CHE). The two teams were huddled around a conference table brainstorming a solution to a few minor issues that had bubbled up around the EARN Indiana program, which utilizes government funding to help pay interns’ wages at approved organizations. Everyone at the table, except for me, had worked closely on the EARN program and its logistics for quite some time. Because of this, they continued to approach the issues at hand with similar solutions and were hitting similar roadblocks each time. It’s natural for us to get used to seeing things a certain way. Since I was less familiar with the processes behind the program, I had a different line of thought than the others.
As an outsider, I second-guessed myself and didn’t share right away. I thought, “I’m just an intern and all of these people are more familiar with the issue than I am. There must be a reason they haven’t proposed the solution I’m thinking of.” I sat there quietly for another ten minutes while they continued to throw out ideas. Finally, I realized that the worst thing that could happen if I shared my idea was that they would say it couldn’t work. The worst thing that could happen if I didn’t share my idea would be that they wouldn’t find anything that could work. So, I spoke up. They were surprised that they hadn’t considered something like what I was proposing, and everyone agreed they would do some research to see if the change could be implemented.
Whether my idea actually ends up being used or not is not important. What’s important is that I ignored my inner saboteur and used my unique perspective as a new intern to help the organizations involved. Remember, you’re there as an intern not only because you need the experience – the company needs you, too. By sharing my idea, I made an impression on the strangers in the room, which resulted in an expansion of my network and an increase in my confidence as a young professional. I’ve learned a lot throughout my internship so far, but an integral lesson for me has been to never underestimate the power of my voice. If you take my advice, it can benefit both you and the organization you intern with.