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internship insights from a gen x girl

Maybe some things don't change across the decades.

I found a photo (Polaroid of course) from my college internship today. WLS-TV (ABC) Chicago’s Creative Services Department, circa 1990. As many of today’s college kids finish their summer internships this week, I’m reminded that not everything can happen online, no matter how well-lit, well-documented, or well-connected they are on social media. You can’t always grab spontaneous opportunities through a webcam.

Like technology, my midlife outlook on the work world has certainly expanded over the past decades. (Could us Gen X kids have even imagined the ease of applying for internships online? Working on a laptop from a cafe or home?) But while a lot has changed, some important things never did. Here are five things I learned from that internship - observations, lessons and beliefs - that haven’t.

1. You can be powerless, but still be polished. Yes, interns are the lowest on the totem pole. But looking put together and making sure all the work you do is high quality and error-free never goes out of style. People notice.

2. Face your fear before you’re found out. My biggest challenge that first week? Facing something called a fax machine. The PR Director asked me fax something and pointed me to a room with this foreign thing. I stood looking at it, scared to touch it, freaking out. Luckily no one came into the room. I played around with the buttons for probably half an hour. I finally figured out how to dial, never knew for sure which side of the paper should go up, so sent it both ways. Mission accomplished.

3. Push yourself out of your comfort zone. I was (and still am) quite the introvert. But when I was assigned a real task – to write a press release about the Say No To Drugs parade – I forced myself to boldly approach and interview the producer, so I could get a good quote.

4. Be flexible when the scope of your role changes. When they didn’t have enough news anchors show up for the above parade, guess who they wanted to jump up and ride on the station’s float? Bodies – so me and the other interns. I hopped on, smiled, and waved.

5. Fake it until you make it. At the celebrity ABC television fall presentation party, we were given celebrities to escort. I was assigned a star actress from a hit show I’d never watched – Twin Peaks. (I think I was like the only person who didn’t watch it.) Once I got her name and had a half hour to get ready - remember there was NO GOOGLE OR CELL PHONES for quick research then – I asked everyone around me about her character and storyline on the show. I knew just enough to talk to her like an actual viewer.

My hope for the Gen Z interns today? That what they’re taking with them may serve them well in the future. They might be surprised what sticks, but hopefully they’ll be prepared. 😊

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