How to Thrive as an Intern

Many organizations have an internship program where new workers can learn the trade while serving the company.  But being an intern can be a frustrating position. Many interns are brimming with ideas and energy yet lack the position or power to implement changes.

Tim Hwang giving his final presentation as Cre...

I’m currently an intern at a church, and I recently sat in a committee meeting as an observer.  I was just a lowly intern amidst seasoned practitioners.  I didn’t have a voice, but that didn’t stop me from having ideas.  I had to wrap my hands around my rib cage and lean forward just keep from jumping up and blurting out my thoughts.

As an intern you have lots of perspectives you feel could be helpful to your organization and its mission.  But your lack of influence may prevent you from having the impact you want.  Here are a few habits every intern should practice in order to thrive in their role.

1. Learn how to be part of a team. 

A lot of times when I’m stewing in my own discontent at being an intern I’m thinking, “If they would just let me be in charge of something I could really make things happen.”  I realize the arrogance of this statement, but I also realize another underlying reality.  As an intern you may be eager to lead, but beware of skipping the critical skill of learning how to be part of a team.

It takes a tremendous amount of expertise and experience to work effectively with others on a team.  Collaboration, conflict-resolution, and creativity are all skills you can exercise and enhance as a member of a team.  You don’t have to be a leader to learn these skills, and, in fact, the better you are at working on a team the better leader you’ll become.

2. Be faithful with the responsibilities you DO have.

Interns may resent the lack of meaningful responsibilities they’re given, especially a dearth of leadership roles.  But in a healthy organization the way you get more responsibilities in the future is by being faithful with the responsibilities you have in the present.  If your job is getting the coffee, then memorize everyone’s order and have it to them before they ask.  If you only file papers, then devise a better filing system or a better method of processing new paperwork.  Whatever you do, do it as if it’s the most important task in the world.

3. Look for opportunities to serve.

I once cleaned the microwave in our staff break room.  No one asked me to do it.  I wasn’t jockeying for favor with the boss.  I saw a job that needed to be done and I did it.  But it was truly gratifying when others in the office noticed the clean appliance and thanked me for my initiative.  Just keeping your eyes trained on opportunities to serve will make you a more essential member of the team.

4. Hold good ideas humbly.

Many managers make the mistake of ignoring their interns because they figure they don’t have enough experience to have anything good to say.  It’s the manager’s loss. Newbies often have the freshest, most helpful ideas.  But even the best ideas can be held with a bad attitude.  Any hint of arrogance or a critical spirit will instantly limit your credibility and ultimately reduce your opportunity to be heard.  Hold good ideas humbly.

5. Rest in the fact that God is sovereign.

Even in the most frustrating of situations–when you feel as if nothing has changed, is changing, or ever will change–God is in control.  He is actively ruling at the very moment of your agitation and everything is happening at the perfect pace in His grand plan for His glory and your good.  The fact that God cares about your situation right now and has a loving end in mind should give all of us more patience and more peace.

Conclusion

Thriving as an intern is difficult business.  But the right habits and attitude will ensure this season of preparation will yield incredible returns both now and in the future.

Discussion Question

What have you learned as an intern or a manager of interns? What are some other tips to help interns thrive?

3 thoughts on “How to Thrive as an Intern

  1. Hahaha wow, I thought my experiences as an intern were unique to my situation but I see now that it isn’t so. God bless you for sharing this. I Only wish I had seen this sooner because my internship ends in two months!

    1. Marvin, there truly is nothing new under the sun! I’ve had to learn these lessons the hard way and I still forget them often. Glad you’re nearing the end of your internship and hoping it means you’ll be unleashed to use your gifts even more. Thanks for reading!

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