How to Survive Your Internship

A recruiting expert takes on some of interns' biggest headaches.

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It's internship season. This time could provide a terrific opening into your dream job, or it could be 10 weeks in the bell jar—whether you're getting paper cuts from all the filing or bombarding friends with E-mails because you're so bored.

So, to help students navigate their entry into corporate America, we recruited internship expert Brad Karsh to address some of the common trials and tribulations. Karsh, the founder of JobBound and JB-Training Solutions and author of Confessions of a Recruiting Director, is also paid by companies to help train their interns in subjects not taught in college: time management, initiative, diversity, and business etiquette. Excerpts of his advice on dealing with six internship woes:

Woe No. 1: This is definitely not the kind of work you expected.

Open your mind. This may not be exactly what you wanted to do. What you learn in school and what you do in the working world are often two totally different things. If I've studied advertising, I know what advertising is; all of a sudden I start [interning] in advertising, and, whoa, this is totally different. Try to soak up as much as you can. Recognize it's going to be different, and try to visualize the job through the eyes of someone who's more experienced, where you will ultimately be. That can sometimes be very frustrating, you're like: Oh great, I get to do that in seven years. And what we know about this generation is that they're very impatient. It may be a signal to you this may not be the right field. But go into it with a grain of salt, recognizing that what you see and do as an intern isn't necessarily what the job is all about.

Woe No. 2: You can't stand the people you work with.

One: Unlike college, where you can pick your friends, in the working world, you can't pick who you work with, sadly. Two: For better or worse, you're going to spend more time with the people you work with than with anyone in your life—your wife, your boyfriend, your husband, your girlfriend, your significant other, your parents, your kids. And recognize that you don't have to like everyone—you just have to get along with them. That being said, if you're working with people and, forget not liking them, they're just kind of mean or nasty, you don't seem to get along with them, that would send an incredibly strong signal to me that this is not a place where I want to work. You're spending 8, 10, 12 hours a day with them. If you fundamentally dislike them, you're going to be miserable after two weeks. Again, watch that fine line between: Am I best friends with them, or can I not stand them?

Woe No. 3: No one is giving you enough to do.

I work with hundreds of interns, and 40 to 50 percent say: I don't have enough to do. So this is a huge concern. But this is an extraordinary opportunity for you to show your initiative, unlike college, where you wait around for someone to tell you what to do. You don't say to your professor, I thought it would be a great idea to just write a paper for you. I know you didn't assign it. But I had some free time, and I just put together a little paper. Thought you might like it. Obviously your professor would look at you like you had three heads. But if you don't say that in the working world, you're fundamentally selling yourself short on the internship. So: initiative, initiative, initiative. If you don't have enough to do, figure out something to do. Hey, I thought it'd be a great idea if I updated the filing system. Don't ask for permission; ask for forgiveness. Use this as an opportunity to explore and investigate different pieces of the business. See if you can shadow the sales guy; see if you can spend a day in marketing. Explore within the organization. Don't just sit at your desk and surf the Internet all day because you have nothing to do. That is unacceptable.

Woe No. 4: The other interns are stealing the limelight.

You want to do what you feel is the right and appropriate thing to do. That means not back stabbing people. Not stepping on toes. Not doing anything overly aggressive. One of the most important things you can do is establish a strong, trusting relationship with your manager. You'll feel more comfortable talking to them about your ability to get projects done. That will provide a foundation on which your internship can thrive. So if you feel like other people are stepping all over your stuff, you walk in to your boss and say, I want a chance to do something or work on a project. It seems like some of the other projects are taken. I thought it would be a great idea if I did this; is this OK? It's a chance for you to let your initiative shine through, if everyone else is sucking everything up, and establish that relationship with your manager.