A common fallacy many interns adhere to is that asking for assistance is a sign of weakness.
On the contrary, seeking out the advice of more senior and experienced people is a sign of someone who is coachable and hungry to learn. Doing so will help you to enhance your professional education, acquire new internships or jobs, and new skills.
Asking for help, however, is a skill in itself – and the outcome is often a direct reflection of the quality of the inquiry. In other words, if you make it easier for your resources to assist you, most often you’ll receive more useful information.
“Help your helper, help you.”
In different stages of your internship, separate groups of people will be most influential. Let’s look at three phases of a typical internship, and how you might best gain their support to your advantage:
Phase 1: The Introduction
With any new opportunity, you first have to get your foot in the door. To do that, you need help from a combination of sources including recruiters, career experts, your networking contacts, and most likely the hiring manager. For you to get the internship you want, you’ll sometimes need all these people to champion your cause.
To enlist their help to maximum benefit, (when appropriate) enlighten them briefly on your goals… and in some cases, a bit about your background and experience.
Above all else, approach the person with more than just a generic, “Hi! I’m looking for an internship. Can you help?!”
Help them help you by providing some very brief details such as:
- The industry in which you are interested
- The city, or at least the State, in which you want to work
- A detail or two about your experience level
- Your available time commitment (part-time, full-time, etc.)
Your query might begin like this: “Hi. I’m looking for a paid internship in social media, ideally in New York where I’m a sophomore Marketing major. I’d be open to either an in-office or virtual internship.”
Granted, the medium used will influence how much detail you provide up front – less on Twitter than email, for example. Even when limited to 140 characters, however, provide your “Twitch” (Twitter Pitch) that clearly communicates your goals. This is extremely important – you’ll be amazed at the higher quality response you receive when you make it easier for someone to help you.
Phase 2: The Internship Begins
Your career goals are set, and you’ve chosen an internship to start you down (or to continue) your career path. Enlist your supervisor’s help to get you on the right track and stay focused.
Toward the beginning of your internship, set a meeting to discuss “internship goals”. The meeting should be short – an hour at very most should do. To this meeting, bring copies of a printed, concise, bullet-points document that includes:
- Several personal accomplishment goals for the internship – what specifically do you want to learn?
- A list of projects you’ve identified to improve the company (processes, website, customer interaction etc. – often a “fresh” pair of eyes can see improvement opportunities that company veterans no longer notice)
Your level of organization will help your supervisor work with you to prioritize these projects. And you’ll gain much more on-the-job experience for taking the initiative.
Phase 3: Looking Forward Toward a Career
A mentor’s role is similar to that of your supervisor. However, where a supervisor may or may not be fully engaged in developing your career, a mentor will accept essential responsibilitiesin advancing your professional goals.
Although they may not have the same direct responsibilities during your internship as a mentor,an influencer is always watching – and can have a significant impact on your career.
Set up regular meetings with your mentor and perhaps informal one-on-one coffee meetings with influencers. Important to these meetings:
- Be on time and organized… these contacts have their own job to do aside from assisting you; appreciate their time by being prepared
- In your first meeting, review your long-term career goals so the mentor and influencer can better guide you
- Think more of “long-term” goals rather than daily tasks (unless your mentor is also your supervisor, of course)
- Deliberately solicit their more experienced perspective on workplace challenges
- Review and adjust your career direction and progress
Remember: the quality of the outcome is often a direct reflection of the quality of the inquiry. With this in mind, you’ll find people much more willing to provide information and assistance. By understanding how helpers in different phases of your internship can influence your career, and by “helping your helper” – you are really helping… you.