Meet Intern X, whose summer practicum as a teller at a local bank in a small mid-western community was less than ideal—no exciting innovations in the works or standout industry recognition, nothing novel or cutting edge.
In fact, some days at work felt downright dysfunctional, like the day a co-worker declared it a “madhouse” and quit on the spot, or the day another left for lunch and just never came back.
Internships are supposed to be about learning, acquiring skills and building a professional network, but what does an intern do when the experience falls far short of ideal?
Find value in the experience, says Jane Bell, management professor in the Briner School of Business at Greenville University. Be assured, it’s there.
X may have found herself in an underwhelming situation, but thanks to optimism and determination, she turned even awkward and difficult moments into learning opportunities.
Classroom Lessons: Don’t Enter an Internship Without Them
Bell coaches her students to head into the workplace with (1) heightened awareness about what’s going on, and (2) recall of what they learned in the classroom.
“Study everything. How is your supervisor managing? How are their communication skills? What is the culture of the organization? Take all that you have learned in your courses with you into the workplace and see how it is used, or how it’s not used.”
Intern X took Bell’s advice and assumed the role of super observer. When it came to the teller turnover issue, she noticed:
- Insufficient skills eroded confidence.
- The constant state of inexperience contributed to low morale.
- Indecisive supervisors prolonged confusion.
- The inefficiencies ultimately frustrated customers.
Go the Extra Analysis Mile: What Would I Do Differently?
Intern X tells a story about inexperience in handling savings bonds that ends like this:
“ . . . so there were three tellers and one officer staring dumbfounded at a savings bond while the customer waited. Eventually, someone called a teller-help hotline and resolved the problem—20 minutes later.”
Going the extra analysis mile, X made a mental note on how she would improve the situation: “I would’ve recorded the steps of the process so I would know what to do the next time someone wanted to redeem a bond.”
Interns Have the Power to Create a Meaningful Experience
“Most practicums aren’t glamorous,” says Bell; entry-level work rarely is. Yet, she has observed that students who get the most out of their practicums are the ones who study how workplaces function. They compare and contrast what they observe with what they learned in their courses.
“No matter where they are, they can learn about best practices either by having great experiences or seeing poor business practices,” says Bell. “They can learn by doing and learn by watching. I’ve never had a student ask to quit because of a poor work environment or tell me they were sorry they had a practicum.”
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