July 6, 2012 by Erin Spencer
I understand the topic of this blog might be a bit confusing. “Awesome” is not a word typically used to describe working full-time for no pay. Between moving to a new city, paying rent, and staying late on weekdays, it seems that I’m practically paying National Geographic to hire me (Disclaimer: I’d get in serious trouble if I tried to pretend I was fully supporting myself through this summer. Thanks Mom & Dad, you’re the best). But if you look past the lack of a paycheck, there are some pretty serious advantages to being an intern. Try and remember these perks when you’re eating Ramen noodles for the third meal in a row.
1. Everything is new.
Every job has a honeymoon period- a certain chunk of time before your daily tasks seem mundane. Think of an internship as an extended honeymoon period. By the time the honeymoon is over, you’re finished with the internship! For me, this means enjoying the small nuisances of my job that seem dull over time. For example, I write tweets for the National Geographic Traveler Twitter account. Every time I post a new one, I want to call all my friends and say, “I just tweeted to 400,000 followers! Everybody look! Guys, I mean it!” Now, a few months and a few hundred tweets later, I’d probably be a little less enthusiastic. More along the lines of, “God no, not more tweets please.” But for now, every small task is thrilling and new. The excitement of simply having this job hasn’t worn off, and I plan to take advantage of that for as long as I can.
2. There are no stupid questions.
Let’s be brutally honest here. People assume you don’t know anything- you’re an intern after all. Some interns are so worried about acknowledging they actually are clueless, so they never ask questions. They get their assignments and sit at their desks, praying that some intern fairy will magically appear and give them step-by-step instructions on how to do their job. This approach not only wastes time, it defeats the purpose of an internship…you’re there to learn. Save yourself the time and ask questions from the start. Your coworkers won’t think you’re stupid, rather they will appreciate that you’re trying to do your job thoroughly. Actually, you’re expected to ask questions. You’re only at the job for a few months at best, so enjoy the freedom of being able to ask as many questions as your heart desires. And if you’re not asking questions, you’re doing it wrong.
3. You can get away with things.
You know how little kids can get away with things, just because young and cute? Being an intern is kind of the same thing, only slightly different. Let me be clear, I’m not advocating for anyone to do something totally inappropriate and use the excuse “Uh…sorry, I’m an intern.” That just makes you look bad. I mean that you can meet people and see events you wouldn’t get to see as a full time employee. For example, a few weeks ago we had the Explorers Symposium, where National Geographic Explorers from all over the world came to headquarters to present their work. For a straight week, there were meetings, presentations, and receptions, all to highlight these incredible people. A lot of the employees didn’t get to see the presentations because they actually had work they needed to do during the day. But I’m an unpaid intern with a really understanding supervisor. She really didn’t need me during the day as long as I caught up on my assignments at night. So I didn’t miss a single Explorer presentation, and it was truly a once in a lifetime experience. Plus, I was able to sit in on meetings with Explorers in other departments just because I’m an intern. It’s kind of like having a VIP pass, but without all the special attention and free swag.
4. You can have commitment issues.
There’s one thing that all internships have in common: they’re temporary. Every internship in the world has a defined beginning, middle, and end. Which makes it the perfect scenario for the commitment-phobes out there, or just for people like me who don’t know what they want to do with their lives yet. For the most part, supervisors don’t assume an internship is going to lead into a job. If you do well, and you get offered a permanent position, that’s great! You can officially enter the land of paid employees. But if you decide that job isn’t for you, no one is going to be offended. It’s like a trial period- no harm, no foul. Worse case scenario, you have a terrible time at the job, you decide it’s not for you, and leave after two months. Best case scenario, you find your life calling and have a fantastic job waiting for you. Either way, you have something great to put on your resume.
So although an unpaid internship may be lacking in some areas (namely money), there are some definite benefits to be had. There are some parts of an internship you’ll never have in a full-time job, so take advantage of it! So ask questions, introduce yourself, and learn as much as you can in what little time you have there. And remember, if you do screw up, it’s okay— you’re an intern.