When children are being schooled on the intricacies of crossing a roadway, they’re often urged to “stop … look … listen.” Turns out, this is also excellent advice for college interns.
Since back in 2002, our agency — Success Communications Group — has offered a public relations-focused internship program for collegians, and to date we’ve played host to interns representing more than 40 different colleges and universities. And one of the things I’ve learned in the past decade is that the finest internship opportunities are those that not only enable students to tackle challenging assignments, but also provide a work environment in which they can regularly “stop … look … listen” to what goes on around them. Because, by doing so, they can digest potentially invaluable information on what to do — and what not to do — once their own careers begin.
It’s worth noting, by the way, that to be effectively attuned to their environment, interns need an open workstation. Ideally, this is a centrally-located desk or cubicle, from which they can see and hear everyone passing by. The worst option is being tucked away in an office or in some conference room.
Now, assuming an intern has a favorable geographic location in the office, what exactly can he or she learn once they stop, look, and listen? Actually, they can learn a lot, including:
- How an effective team handles a project, from planning through execution. The idea that business decisions are always made around a conference table is largely a creation of television. In reality — when proprietary client information isn’t involved — strategy sessions often occur across the tops of cubicle walls. If interns have the chance to tune in, they should.
- Exactly how to interact with colleagues, including tone of voice and attitude. It’s amazing how easy it is to determine who is a well-respected professional … and who generates eye-rolls as they wander past.
- The importance of proper, professional attire … and what a career-killer not dressing appropriately can be.
- What is and isn’t appropriate in terms of managing time. Just because an intern has hours of access to a computer with an HD monitor doesn’t mean it’s acceptable to spend valuable time visiting Facebook, YouTube, or Pinterest … unless doing so is connected to a specific social network-related assignment. It’s also very poor form to waste time texting with friends or playing games via a smartphone.
Everyone understands internships are designed to be opportunities for learning beyond the scope of the classroom. But no one ever said that the knowledge gained comes exclusive from assignments and projects. Often, there’s every bit as much value in what an can intern hear and see.
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