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7 work secrets interns should know

MANILA, Philippines – Not all internships are created equal. Some companies create programs that are tied to recruitment or hiring. Others hire to fill a void – someone to pick up the volume of work regular employees are overwhelmed by. Still others hire interns, inexplicably as it seems, to work on the most menial tasks of the coffee-buying, xerox-and-faxing variety.

But even the worst internships can work to your benefit.

Here are some valuable tips for incoming and current interns, and for students preparing for the working world. We’ve put these together with help from our readers, who have kindly volunteered their own pieces of advice.

1. Start early, before it's required

According to a recent Jobstreet study, internships were the number one thing employers wanted to talk about at an interview – way over grades, coming in at number two. (READ: The number 1 thing PH employers want to hear about in a job interview)

Work experience increases your value as a fresh grad, so it’s good to start earlier – maybe even have two or 3 under your belt by the time you’re looking for a job.

Think of it this way: all fresh grads will have gone to college. But not all of them will have any work experience.

Some schools start requiring internships later on in your college life, like in the summer of your junior year. But there’s no rule saying you can’t start earlier.

Some require a set number of required hours over the internship period. This might prompt you to tell a company that you can only work X days a week, X hours a day.

Try to limit those restrictions you place on the company. They may be nice about it, they may try to accommodate it, but it won’t make you look more attractive next to the other intern who’ll be available all week for months. Work more if you can.

If your work days are limited, try to schedule it so you can work a few days straight instead of for only a few hours a day. For example, working full days from Monday to Thursday is better than saying you can work 3 hours only on MWF, and 2 hours only on Tuesdays.

“Gain as much experience as you can. Employers always prefer to hire students with work experience that is correlated to their majors. Understand every job task and responsibilities of the job you're performing so when you are hired for a permanent job, you're familiar with what you're expected to do, and wouldn't need much guidance,” writes Ryan Saliva on Facebook.

2. ‘No task too small’

Tasks vary, depending on the company and the quality of the internship. But you signed up for this job, and unless the conditions are downright unacceptable, try not to resign. It won’t look good to quit right away.

Tasks “too small”? Do them anyway. How else will you prove you’re ready for a bigger job?

The work gets more interesting when you’ve mastered whatever task you’ve been assigned. You’re then free to perform work that will be unexpected.

I once had to choose one intern (I had two) to help my team cover the Oscars. I asked both of them to make me a list of the year’s nominees.

One of them did fine. The other gave me only 3 out of 5 nominees for her categories, for some reason. I fired one intern on the spot. The other writes for Rappler to this day.

Attitude counts for a lot – especially when you have no prior track record to speak for you. So no eye-rolling when you think you’re too good for the job. Even if it’s true.

“Act professional, be kind, and always remember that you're there to learn. No task is too small (okay, fine, some tasks are rather small but do them anyway) but you get the drift,” writes Rappler reporter Bea Cupin on Facebook.

3. The gaps you can fill

Here’s something employers will rarely say aloud. Interns won’t get the most rewarding tasks simply because they’ll be on their way out in weeks. So the ball is in your court to find a way to be useful. It’s not the boss’ responsibility, it’s yours.

But with little work experience, what value can you really add?

At this point, look for the gaps – cracks in the way they do things, small holes that need to be filled. And because you may not have a defined role, you’re suddenly in a position to do something about it.

I once had a great intern who honed in on the fact that at the time, I was working alone and had not yet hired a full team. The gap: I was ridiculously short-handed. What that meant: assignments needed to be filled.

When one of my regular writers canceled on me at the last minute, this intern pounced and asked if she could do the story. I sent her alone to an appointment and she did a great job. You can read her stories here and here.

When you’re an intern, you are an outsider – and that’s the best part. You are in the perfect position to spot things that need improvement, which employees may or may not notice because they’re too focused on the daily grind.

Trust your instincts – if something doesn’t feel right, or if you find yourself thinking “Why can’t we…” – look into it, evaluate it. Is it valid? Talk it over with a coach, then see if you can bring it up and suggest an alternative.

It doesn’t have to be technical. Sometimes, all it takes is a pair of fresh eyes to see better ways of doing things. And if they don’t pick up your idea, it’s still valuable work experience. The act of asking questions, evaluating a problem, suggesting a solution, receiving feedback – great practice for the working world.

WHEN IN DOUBT. Ask, don't assume.

WHEN IN DOUBT. Ask, don't assume.

4. Handling your huge mistake

What’s the worst you can do as an intern? I think the greatest waste would be for others to forget you were there.

“If they're not assigning you any tasks, there's a chance they probably forgot you're there,” writes Rappler social media head Stacy De Jesus on Facebook. “Your tasks are most likely not considered as part of the workflow always. Don't be offended. That's normal. Just keep asking what you can help with.”

Even if your tasks are on the menial side, you’re given the opportunity to introduce yourself to people who will become professional contacts later. If there’s rapport, if you do well, you may have your foot in the door. That’s more effective than the best resume.

A note on mistakes: they are 100% absolutely expected of most young hires and interns. They’ll be watching how you’ll handle it. Resist the urge to explain how it isn’t your fault. If it is, acknowledge the error immediately, ask how it can be avoided, and be involved actively in correcting it.

5. The folly of underestimating the stakes 

“Intern ka lang” (You're only an intern) is the worst way possible to see your temporary job. Remember – prospective employers call other employers for references. And the last thing you want is for a door to close prematurely just because of attendance or attitude issues.

Many interns neglect to do just the most basic, expected things. 1. Show up. Day in, day out, show up when you say you will. 2. Do the tasks, ask questions if you aren’t sure. 3. (This is for your own good.) Mingle.

If you do those 3, you can move on to more and raise the stakes – and the rewards.

“An internship is not a guarantee for future employment…But it doesn't mean that you should solely perform for grades and documentation. Perform, still, as the ‘asset’ of the team/company. And, most importantly, have fun and enjoy the ride,” says Paul Michael Perez on Facebook.

Here’s something I’ve seen that’s common in great interns – they aren’t afraid of a little extra work. They’ll stay a little later, point out a glaring mistake others haven’t seen. They’ll take your feedback and correct their work accordingly. If they didn’t get the new software the first time, they’ll spend extra hours practicing.

One weekend during my own internship for a multinational company in Singapore, I decided to practice the data software that was available in the office. When I got to the deserted building, I was terrified to hear this incessant rustling. I thought I had finally met my first office ghost.

Turns out, it was another intern from India, who had made himself at home at the office all weekend. The rustling was the sound of him eating his giant bag of potato chips. I really admired that intern.

6. The big presentation is a networking event

At some internships, you’ll be asked to present to the boss, or perhaps to a larger crowd, or to peers.

I think the most developed (and desirable) internships won’t treat you any differently from a part-time employee. No special “intern day” or anything like that, and they won’t go soft on you just because you are an intern.

In any case, the big presentation is a huge chance to make a strong impression on new people you’ll meet only on the big day. Who knows, they might remember and ask for you when it’s time to hire.

So work hard on the presentation – not on the bells and whistles of a Powerpoint, but on the substance, the hard numbers, the developed ideas, the organizational feedback. Defend your ideas and ask your own questions. Don’t be afraid to disagree – but back it up with solid facts and anecdotes.

SHOW UP. Be on time, don't flake, and submit all the requirements


Be on time, don't flake, and submit all the requirements

7. Critical: Document results

Forgetting to document your results is like falling flat on your face at the finish line. The results must be clear-cut, concise, and preferably quantitative. But if you learned more than you contributed, you should be able to list those down too. Did you practice with a new software, learn how to conduct sensitive interviews, go out on field work, present to a large crowd? All those have value, too – but not if you won’t list them down.

With many universities in Manila starting school at around August, there’s plenty of time to go out and find another internship. It’s the perfect time to start building your market value this early.

Facebook user Carlo Soldevilla said it really well: “[An] internship is close to learning by doing. It's exploring, wondering, learning how to slowly get out of the shell, preparing oneself to face the real world (after being armed in school with appropriate knowledge and skills).”

So did Jan Gabriel Castañeda: “Be willing to explore and take chances. You don't get through life playing safe.”

Good luck! –

Wyatt is the Lifestyle and Entertainment editor of Rappler. Before that, she was the deputy editor of meg magazine. She's worked closely with numerous interns over 5 years and is the creator of Rappler's Career section