Garrison: How to survive an internship

Zac Garrison Senior from Franklin, Ky.

I was born and raised in the South. Born in North Carolina in the Cherry Hill Military Hospital, I moved to South Carolina as an infant and was then whisked away to Kentucky before I blew out the five candles on my birthday cake.

I’ve been here ever since. So, when I was told I had been offered an internship in New York City, I was both excited and petrified in the same breath.

This was the opportunity I had always dreamed of, but for some reason it made my palms sweat just thinking about it. I was extremely excited about the opportunity to have such a prestigious internship, but still scared of living in the city and rubbing elbows with guys in Gucci suits.

I worked on the 12th floor of an office building so tall that when you stood on the street and looked up, clouds were out of sight. I worked in Manhattan for three months and loved it.

After working there, I learned that you will make mistakes. Check that entitled attitude at the door, and come in knowing that you will mess something up.

I don’t mean that you’re going to lose your company millions of dollars or something (I hope not), but you will make minor mistakes here and there that you’ll learn from.

My second week into the internship, I accidentally dialed 911 from my office phone. If anyone were ever to listen to the recording of that call it would sound like someone just realized they accidentally called 911 and was incredibly and inconsolably sorry for bothering them. I then sat there for about 10 minutes, checking over my shoulder every 45 seconds to make sure the New York Police Department weren’t going to kick down the door of my office and then violently arrest the intern for committing tomfoolery on the office phone.

I eventually confessed to my boss and she told me, “It happens all the time.” Who knew?

Don’t play the victim ­– This is the easiest way to have people think less of you.

We’ve all heard it before. Someone messes something up, and their whole response is, “Well, nobody told me I shouldn’t do that!” You mess up, and claim to be the victim of the mishap because you were “ill-informed” or it was “not my fault, I didn’t know.” You see this more than you would think in this day and age.

I heard the excuse, “Oh, I’m just the intern, I didn’t know,” a few too many times during my summer. This throws up a huge red flag for not only your work ethic, but your attitude and persona as well. Avoid this.

Usually if you mess up, you will be able to take the criticism you receive and apply it to fixing the problem you caused and learning a lesson for good.

Take some pride in your work and don’t think of yourself as “just the intern.” You are now a part of the team – a cog in the mechanics that keeps the whole machine running.

If you make a mistake, tell somebody; plain and simple. Most of the time, your problems could be fixed with a few clicks of a mouse, or if things get really serious, a call to the tech department. The worst thing you can do in an internship is make a major mistake and then just sweep it under the rug so no one will know.

Believe me, someone will notice it, and then things will really get bad. The biggest mistake I made at my internship was when I accidentally deleted 7.4 gigabytes of data from my offices’ shared drive.

To put that number into perspective, one average Excel document is about 21 kilobytes of data. So, you could fit 352,381 Excel spreadsheets into 7.4 gigabytes of data. Now imagine deleting all of those files and not being able to find a single one of them.

I knew this one was big, and I knew I had to tell someone. So I walked into one of our vice president’s offices with shaking hands and cold sweats and admitted to her, “I messed up, bad.” Come to find out, they back up that shared drive every weekend, so all it took was a call to IT and 20 of the longest minutes of my life and we had all of our files back in the same place I had just deleted them from.

They got a good kick out of how nervous and upset I was, but were extremely glad I told someone so we could get it fixed up quickly.

Be the first one there, and the last one to leave. I learned this lesson before my internship, and I can honestly admit it was the soundest advice that anyone gave me.

The fact that you are in the office answering emails and making calls 30 minutes before anyone else shows up will show a lot about your work ethic.

When the clock hits five and people are putting their jackets and headphones on, and walking to the door, be at your desk hammering out reports and mastering Excel files.

Take this stuff to heart, but know that you will learn lessons the hard way once you start at your internship. You will get stressed, and it will be tough sometimes. You’ll be homesick, broke enough to wash your underwear in your bathtub (speaking from experience) and pushed to your mental limits.

Learn from these things. You will gain more than you would have ever imagined from the job, yourself and the industry as a whole.

So find an internship, work hard and come out with flying colors – you’ll be surprised what it can do for you.


Column by Zac Garrison, Senior from Franklin, Ky.