So you landed the internship, congratulations! You are super excited to arrive on your first day, and do all the cool things you’ve dreamed of and learn the tools of the trade so you can hopefully be hired upon graduation. You assume you will be trained in various systems and be able to make a creative contribution and impact from day one. Sure, you may have to shadow or learn for a week or two - but then you’ll be assigned the big account, the major project, invited to have a seat at the executive table, right? Well, you may want to manage your expectations.
And while each company is different, and internship programs have really evolved in recent years to include things like pay, travel stipends, set hours and more formal learning outcomes, some of the basics still remain true. An intern will need to start at the bottom and prove their value, by completing such tasks as making copies, answering phones, doing data entry, and, doing coffee runs from time to time.
It’s all about perspective: when you are the coffee person, you get to leave the office for a few minutes, get a change of scenery, check your phone and grab some fresh air, if the coffee place is outside of the building. And guess who you are: the intern that members of the team look forward to seeing every day, the intern who gets to actually speak with those staffers who they have retrieved coffee for, and, the person who got recognized by senior staff in the kitchen or elevator. They may just ask you one day what it is that YOU want to do - and offer their advice and assistance - since they know you are a nice, enthusiastic, team player who has earned a place at their (or a different) organization.
A student I know who interns at a well known media company on a TV show has had the opportunity to hang out with the writers when delivering their coffee, thus gaining valuable insights and face time with those sitting at the table where she wants to sit, one day.
A coffee run is an opportunity to demonstrate that you’re not above any task, to build relationships, and earn trust. Often what’s been stereotyped as a demeaning intern task is an exercise in patience, flexibility, and, depending on the complexity of the coffee order, attention to detail. Be the person who gets coffee AND thrives in their role, with a great attitude to boot.
All that said, employers should recognize that interns don’t have to just be coffee runners, copy makers and spreadsheet fillers. If employers give interns an opportunity to take on more substantial projects, they will be able to get a better sense of the type of full-time employee they’ll actually be. Hiring and onboarding an intern who has a deep knowledge of the company, its employees and a proven willingness to learn and be a “go to” person saves both time and money. And that’s always a good thing.
Go get ‘em. Some coffee.
And good luck on your finals!
Michele Roberts, Assistant Director