How to be indispensable

Ladies and gentlemen, intern and job applications are officially open. As we face one of the most competitive employment markets yet, investigates the best way to succeed during internships

In these job deprived times, internships have become the modern day equivalent of hand-to-hand combat for most students. After months of pestering emails, aptitude testing and mortifying interviews, you turn up ready and willing to help. Unfortunately, you are entirely useless and, depending on what field you’re working in, most probably a liability risk. And everyone knows it.

As a self-described professional intern, I have had many experiences and made more mistakes. The following suggestions come from the experiences of myself and my friends. Hopefully, these will prevent you from finding yourself waiting outside a loading dock for four hours at 5am in the morning with no-one but a creepy security guard to keep you company. But more about that later.

The pen is mightier than the sword

Much like any good soldier, you should turn up on your first day armed and ready for action. I’m assuming you’ve already done company research and know the key people you will be working with. Get a good spiral notebook and a pen and never let them leave your side. Document every interaction and request you come across, no matter how basic it seems. Scribble furiously in meetings. The wealth of information you accrue will be invaluable when, inevitably, you forget quite how your boss suggested you knock up that economic model on Excel predicting currency fluctuations.

If nothing else, by the time you leave, you will have gathered a substantial database of sensitive information about the company which you can use to suggest that you are probably more valuable inside than outside. Be careful of confidentiality agreements, though.

He’s your boss, not your bruv

In America, the line between colleague and friend is well-established. On our fair isle, it is less so.

To be part of the team, you should be taking up any opportunity offered, including post-work drinks and celebration dinners. Banter is fine and banter with your boss is better, but don’t every forget that they have control of your salary. Some companies enjoy playing the “who can get the intern to vom first” game. Yes, it’s juvenile and possibly immoral but then so is the financial sector.

Resist impulses to regal the team with your latest triumph in Ziggy’s, no matter how many tequila shots they have you doing. And how many times they ask you for just one crazy student story.

IT Soc might not have been such a bad idea…

You will be asked to organise meetings. These will involve electronics. One of the biggest mistakes I made was not testing the equipment before a very important meeting of VPs.

We had had a power surge the night before and nothing was working. Do not be that guy. If you are responsible for the meeting, even if you really shouldn’t be, arrive an hour early to make sure everything is going according to plan.

If it’s particularly important, arrange for IT support to be there just in case. Tell them there’s a problem even if you’re not sure there will be.

Will you be my friend?

Everyone will tell you about the importance of networking. What they won’t tell you about is the importance of networking with secretaries, the front desk, IT support, security guys and, of course, the mailroom. If your office has a cafeteria, throw them in too.

In these modern times, people often underestimate the importance of being able to get practical things done quickly. After all, someone has to know how to charm the chef into letting you borrow his scale to weigh the parcel for your boss’ daughter.

Don’t be a snob; these are the people who will help you out when you’re asked you to do something absurd by yesterday, if possible.

It’s not the Devil Wears Prada but…

Be the best dressed. Always. I don’t care if everyone else is rocking up in gym shorts and trainers, you should always look smart. Invest in a couple of good suits if you’re working in the City, or at least some nice trousers and a shirt or two.

Make sure your hair is shiny and your nails are clean. This goes for boys too. As an intern, your mere presence is adding to the company’s inefficiency problem. You don’t have to be there and, paid or not, should be grateful. If you can’t help (and you won’t straight away), you might as well be decorative.

Married is not the same as gay

Any good intern will tell you that flirting (with either sex) and being entertaining are essential to becoming part of the team. Being part of the team is essential to becoming indispensable.

Part of your job is to provide the entertainment. However, there is a limit. Do not convince yourself that just because that really funny guy in Developing Markets is married, it’s OK to go all out like you would with Gok Wan. You have no idea what sort of arrangements he has with his wife. It sounds obvious but you’d be amazed how often it happens.

Hello. Would you like a mem-o?

I couldn’t resist. As an intern, you will spend most of your time collecting information. The problem is, most of the knowledgeable people are very busy. Too busy in fact, especially for you.

If you can convince them to sit down with you, make sure you are prepared. Type up a memo or at least an email with the background of your project and exactly what information you need from them. Be specific and flexible. Don’t be offended if they postpone or expect you to trot after them as they leave the building. Any attention is good attention.

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