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January 15, 2010 10:20 AM   Subscribe

I started at an internship where the vibe is very sink or swim. I'm treading water, but I'm not feeling like I am getting the attention or recognition that I'm used to, nor do I feel like I am performing at my full potential. How do I feel ok about this?

So I got my dream internship at a syndicated public radio program, and I started two weeks ago. Setting aside all the grunt work I'm tasked with, I feel like I really enjoy the actual work. The problem is that I feel like I'm used to more attention when I start a job, and I'm not getting the guidance or assistance I look for from a new job. It's not that anyone's mean about it, and if I check their heads about something I always get a response. But at any other place I've ever worked, when someone new comes in they are shown the ropes in an explicit, fairly thorough manner, rather than piecemeal and only when they ask.

On an interpersonal note, I've generally always found that, being pretty outgoing, it's pretty easy to get along with people. Again, with the people I am working with, they are generally polite, but I don't find that I'm penetrating or making an impression, in spite of trying to be really nice and outgoing and thoughtful and all that mess.

I am thinking that maybe they have had so many interns roll through, they're just exhausted having to retrain someone every three months, but I really want to be a contributing member of the team. I have struggled to make sure I'm pitching stories and doing good research, and performing my intern duties well, but I'm still feeling ignored.

All of this stuff is severely hampering my enjoyment of the internship experience. On top of these difficulties, the fact that I am only there part time (I work part time at a paying job) makes me feel very discouraged and on the outside.

Ok, questions. I'm looking for the following:

1.) How do I feel ok about this lack of attention and learn the things I need to learn?
2.) How do I get the most out of this internship?

If you have any questions, feel free to contact me at the ironically named "radiodreamjob@gmail.com"
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Ah, last time I worked at a job like this, I learned the fine art of patience. Sorry you're not getting the "special snowflake" recognition you're craving, but with some places it takes time for them to feel like they can make use of you at a new job. You've only been there two weeks, and you're part-time as is, finding work for you to do and giving you great guidance is probably not high on anyone's priorities list at this time. Keep up the good work, it will probably take a few more weeks before people start getting a feel for your abilities. It's not you, it's that your scarce presence at this place doesn't help make you part of the team as quickly as you'd like.
posted by lizbunny at 10:32 AM on January 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


I've done internships at research labs that are used to having a steady stream of interns. It's very easy to get ignored and forgotten in a place like that as everyone's busy and before they even really notice you, poof you're gone, so why bother?

One thing that would really help you is having a mentor who can help you adjust to the local culture. This may be your boss or it may be someone else; the latter may be preferable. The sort of people who are good at this sort of thing are relatively new full-timers who remember what it's like to be new and can anticipate your worries. Ideally your place would set this up for you but if they haven't, there's no reason you couldn't approach your boss, or even another employee, and ask for this.

Another thing that helps is to attach yourself to other people's projects so that you aren't working in isolation. I don't know how possible this is given your situation but I highly recommend it. If you're working on a "real" project your work will matter to the other people on the team and there's no way they can ignore you then. If by contrast you're developing work on your own and presenting it to your boss, then nobody else at the company is really invested in what you're doing, so they may not notice you. Again you can ask for this - say you'd like to contribute to other projects and ask if there's a small chunk that could be broken off for you to work on. The more people you're interacting with, the better off you'll be.
posted by PercussivePaul at 10:40 AM on January 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


I have struggled to make sure I'm pitching stories and doing good research, and performing my intern duties well, but I'm still feeling ignored.

It probably seems like you're trying too hard -- if you're super outgoing and full of ideas, they may feel a little bombarded, or dismiss your energy as "beginner's enthusiasm". You essentially just started, I'd hold back on the pitches until you have a nuanced sense of this workplace's politics.

Have conversations with people that have nothing to do with your ambitions. You can't get someone to open up if they think you're just flattering them or pumping them for info. Try to relax into the tone others are setting. Trust me, if you are carrying your share of the load (and then some), they will notice.
posted by hermitosis at 10:42 AM on January 15, 2010


Work is, mostly, not a meritocracy. You'll succeed in getting what you want by making friends and appearing to "fit in" around the office. Once they like you as a person and you gain their trust, you'll get all the help, connections and job opps you want.

I know it sounds unjust, but that's the way the working world is in industries where skills aren't in-demand.
posted by anniecat at 10:48 AM on January 15, 2010


I've definitely been in your position and in the position of your superiors, though at a magazine office. One thing I did as an intern was find someone, anyone, who seems remotely encouraging and try being especially on-the-ball with them. I'd swing by their desk and follow up with any projects they'd given, and would try to seem helpful and friendly without looking sycophantic. There are always some people in the office who will treat you like their page, so do your best with them and don't take their behavior personally. But when I found someone who seemed to open up a little around me, or take the time to explain in detail, or even someone who'd remember my damn name, I'd make a mental note to perform really well for them. They'd usually figure out that I was one of the motivated interns and would give me extra projects, a couple mini-articles, more interviews, etc. I knew if I didn't suck it up and barrel forward, I'd wind up being the Coffee-Making Intern.

On the other side of the desk: my favorite interns were the ones who worked hard and always asked if there was anything else they could do before they went home. I know it sucks to be un- or under-paid and so low on the totem pole, so while I'm sympathetic to the interns who left exactly at 6PM, I loved the ones who'd stay til 730 the night before the issue went out. I'd go the extra mile when it came time for them to look for real jobs, offered glowing recommendations, and kept in touch with them years later.
posted by zoomorphic at 10:57 AM on January 15, 2010


This is an opportunity for you to take control over your own situation. They are doing their own thing, are busy, and don't seem to have the time to hold your hand. There are going to be lots of jobs in the future where you are just going to have to teach yourself and figure out how things work on your own, so look at this as good practice.

Figure out what you want out of this internship and go for it.
posted by Vaike at 11:03 AM on January 15, 2010


I had an internship where they spent maybe half a day showing me where things were and my general duties - then I was on my own. I felt just like you.

I ended up teaching myself my own job. As the go to person for my project, I gained internal fulfillment from wrangling the mess that I walked into. Talking to people in other departments, especially other interns, was a lifesaver.

1) This happens in real life. Change your mindset, and own your project. You've been given a fantastic open-ended opportunity, free of micro-managers. People will come around once they see your quality, and independent work.
2) Sit down and focus on something - what can you become an expert on in 3 months? A self-initiated project, well done, is invaluable experience. Talk to others, how did they get there? Read voraciously in your free time.
posted by shinyshiny at 11:04 AM on January 15, 2010


Work is, mostly, not a meritocracy. You'll succeed in getting what you want by making friends and appearing to "fit in" around the office. Once they like you as a person and you gain their trust, you'll get all the help, connections and job opps you want.

I don't know about that. Yes, I did find that it really mattered where you went to school and how much time you could put into your work (which meant that the interns whose parents subsidized their rent so they could intern full-time were in high demand), but one thing you could control was how much, and how efficiently, you worked.

In my personal experience, no college-aged intern was able to "fit in" with the fifty-something year-old senior editors who could actually get them jobs. We made friends with the lower-level editorial assistants and fact-checkers because they were only a little older than we and almost as frustrated with and stunted by their jobs. However, none of them had much networking muscle yet, so they weren't going to be much professional help when the internship was over.

Internships really are about working your ass off, sometimes thanklessly and anonymously. But trust me, someone is aware of your efforts and will file a mental note about your diligence. That's because they started out as interns as well. I always had a sixth sense about what my interns had accomplished and how long it took them; no one can forget that kind of grunt work once they devote a summer to it.
posted by zoomorphic at 11:14 AM on January 15, 2010


Depending on what there is to learn and how people go about their duties, maybe you could see if you could shadow one or two people, and just absorb for a few days. Good luck!
posted by filthy light thief at 11:16 AM on January 15, 2010


But at any other place I've ever worked, when someone new comes in they are shown the ropes in an explicit, fairly thorough manner, rather than piecemeal and only when they ask.

This is rare. Stop expecting it because it won't always be the case. A place hires you to fulfill the particular requirements of a Job. The faster you can integrate yourself the better off you and your employer are.
posted by nickerbocker at 11:25 AM on January 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


The problem is that I feel like I'm used to more attention when I start a job, and I'm not getting the guidance or assistance I look for from a new job.... But at any other place I've ever worked, when someone new comes in they are shown the ropes in an explicit, fairly thorough manner, rather than piecemeal and only when they ask.

Where did you work before? Were these other workplaces also busy nonprofits with experienced staff who have a high degree of initiative?

This sounds to me like a work-culture issue. In my own work experience, the only places I have gotten the full white-glove introduction have been well funded, well resourced, big, and mostly for-profit. Most of my nonprofit work, on the other hand, has consisted of an introduction like yours - jump in and get going. There is so little fat in nonprofit organizations that there is usually not a cushioned, highly developed intake process which people can dedicate time for - that's the province of companies with bigger HR departments and supervisors who have fewer items to juggle. And you're not a permanent employee.

In essence, this is a time to prove yourself, or at least, train yourself. Do you have initiative? Can you self-organize and self-direct? Can you maintain good communication with your teams even outside of a formal check-in-meeting structure? These are the skills and abilities this internship is cultivating in you. If you don't like practicing those skills, chances are you might not like being in this field or this type of organization, because it will still feel much like this when you are a FT employee - at least until you reach the upper levels.

Adapt yourself.

Additionally, in some conference workshops about management I've heard this issue described (from a manager's perspective) as kind of a 'milennial problem.' The expectations that younger people seem to bring into the workplace, based on their schooling, college experience, sports, and other activities, are often out of line with the degree of support workplaces (especially ones with strained budgets) can offer. This means it really is 'sink or swim' for some people your age - if you can meet more of your own needs for security at work, you'll stand out amongst your peers.
posted by Miko at 12:15 PM on January 15, 2010


nickerbocker: "This is rare. Stop expecting it because it won't always be the case. A place hires you to fulfill the particular requirements of a Job. The faster you can integrate yourself the better off you and your employer are."

I know of many places that train new hires. On the other hand, unpaid internships go hand in hand with the absence of employee training. Since they place no dollar value in your work, what motivation do they have to improve it?
posted by pwnguin at 12:19 PM on January 15, 2010


Since they place no dollar value in your work, what motivation do they have to improve it?

In some fields internships are integrated with the professional development system, informal though it may be. Organizations in those fields take interns as a way of contributing to the development of the field, enhancing their stature in the academic side of the field, and building loyalty in new professionals. My field (museums) is like this; so is journalism; and I assume public radio follows this model.

I say this because it's not necessarily true that they don't care about his work just because the internship is unpaid.
posted by Miko at 1:04 PM on January 15, 2010


One thing I'd advise you to do is observe what's going on around you and ask yourself: "what can I do to help these people get the job done?" Figure out how you can be useful, how to make peoples' jobs easier.

Clearly, nobody wants to take the time to tell you how to be useful, or how to help them get the job done. That sucks. But you're smart; figure out how to help people, even if it's in little ways. They will remember you and they'll miss you when you're gone.
posted by cleverevans at 5:26 PM on January 15, 2010


I had a job like this. It took a year of feeling vaguely unhelpful (and definitely inferior to everyone else) before it suddenly "clicked" and I realised I was considered more valuable than I had realised.

To cope for that first year, I just forced myself to have a good attitude towards everything and everyone. I definitely concentrated on having a positive energy in order to make up for what I perceived as my lack of "knowing what to do". In the end, it worked out for me. I just had to be creative every day and try to find new things to do, new ways to help -- it's exhausting but in retrospect it was good for me to have to rely on my own initiative.

Some of the things I spent my time on were pretty silly actually, because I sometimes had to pull ideas from thin air, but ultimately I realised that nobody else was even really noticing what I was doing -- they were just happy I was doing SOMEthing, as long as it seemed work-related.
This was made ultra clear to me when they took in another intern to replace a previous one -- the newb was fired pretty quickly because she had to ask too many questions about every little thing and therefore was taking time and energy away from my bosses because of all the training she needed.

So my advice is to just have fun, appreciate the environment, be a nice person to work with, and be helpful in as many ways as you can -- don't be afraid to do something "wrong" because somebody will tell you if it's wrong and why, and that way you can learn!
posted by mjao at 11:14 PM on January 15, 2010


Been there. It's hard, I know, and it's also completely normal.

Think of it this way:

Your internship goes perfectly, it's 20 years later, and you're the first correspondent from your organisation to land in Haiti after it suffers its worst earthquake in 200 years. The country is in chaos and your support staff and producer haven't arrived yet.

To do your job well, you will need to be able to:

- Pick up new skills on the job, when no-one is available to teach you. Satphone stops working in the field? You'll have to figure it out, or find a way to get help. There will always be new problems and new experiences, and often there will be no-one to walk you through them.

- Work hard, with little recognition or feedback. Seriously, even if you end up at the top of your profession, you won't be getting daily thank-yous for doing your job. Instead,the production desk will point out your errors, forget that you sometimes need to sleep, and yell at you when you file late or over time.

- Be good-humoured and quietly confident, even when you're miserable. Sometimes your job will get you down. Sometimes you'll file three howlers in a row and it will seem like your producer hates you and everything you do. If you let this get to you emotionally, you'll find it even harder to do your job.

Given this possible future, aren't you glad that right now, you're getting rigorous hands-on training in the skills you'll actually need? Seriously, you already know how to edit audio. What you're learning here is much more valuable.

Think of this as a two-track internship - one track teaches you how to make great radio, the other track teaches you how to not go mad while you do it. Both tracks have something worthwhile to teach you.
posted by embrangled at 3:52 AM on January 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


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