3 must-know tips for a work experience intern

Some of you might have to do placements or work experience as part of your course, but perhaps some of you just want to enhance your chances of graduate employment when the time comes for you to enter the oh-so-scary working world. Either way, this post is for you. I’m going to walk you through the disaster that was my own two-week placement, and along the way, give you tips on how to make sure yours doesn’t go down the same bumpy road.

Day one
: I get there to see the smiling face of a woman who gives me a tour of the entire building and each department. Everybody says hello and gives me a brief introduction of their function within the industry, and I’m super-excited because I’ve been waiting for this for an entire year. Internship – come at me! That’s my state of mind.

At least, that’s my state of mind until the woman then sits me at a desk, gives me the computer login/intern email address… and then disappears. For the rest of the day. Let me just tell you that I did nothing. Nothing! Apart from go to the bookcase (of my own accord, might I add) and pull out a book, which I then started to read. I had coffee made for me, which was strange – wasn’t I supposed to be the coffee maker? But no. Not even a request for a large macchiato with an extra shot.

Day one passed and I learned nothing about my industry at all, except that people didn’t talk to you apart from to ask how many sugars you take in your drink.

This leads me to my first tip: be proactive. I’m ridiculously shy sometimes (a lot of people won’t agree with this), so when the woman plonked me in my chair and gave me nothing to do (can I just reiterate that she gave me absolutely nothing to do‽), it meant that I had no idea if I should have been doing something or not, and I was too chicken to check. Retrospectively, I think that what I probably should have done was just send her an email to ask if there were any jobs she wanted to delegate. I say “send her an email” because the people in this place didn’t verbally communicate. They sent emails. Very (antisocial) efficient.

Day two
: I resume reading my book (which is actually really gripping). I barely notice the time go by, fortunately, and then at around one in the afternoon, I get an email asking if I can go down to the proof room and get sixteen copies of so-and-so’s new book to be sent out in one hour’s time, handwrite the addresses on the envelopes, and then handwrite a congratulations note for the folks receiving them. Firstly, where is this proof room she speaks of? My tour was extremely brief and this building is a monotonous maze of staircases and carpets, so I have to run around looking for this so-called “proof room”, which takes fifteen minutes out of my available sixty. Then I have to carry all the books upstairs (this took two trips because the books just had to be big and fat, didn’t they?), go back downstairs to the basement to get some envelopes, and then find the very specific type of paper she asked me to handwrite these notes on. So, I’m sweaty and stressed out. But I get it done.

Tip number two: ask for some help. Being an intern does not make you Super(wo)man. I didn’t want to ask for help because I didn’t feel as though I could, but that doesn’t mean that every intern should suffer in silence. If you need help, ask for it – even if it’s just for somebody to direct you to where you have to go. It’ll make your day go much quicker, and your tasks much easier. Since then, I’ve found a voice. As the old saying goes: if you don’t ask, you don’t get.

Day three
: There are two emails this afternoon, one from the girl who showed me around on my first day, and another from her colleague. The first email makes me smile, because I’ve been asked to write some book club questions on the book I’ve just finished reading, and that sort of stuff is totally my cup of tea. The email states that the book club is taking place on Thursday (it’s currently Wednesday). The second email makes me want to get back on my train to Birmingham and never come back. I’ve been asked to pack around two hundred bags of sweets for some promotional gig. I repeat: two hundred. And they want me to touch these horrible, sticky sweets with my bare hands. I repeat: my bare hands. There’s no date on here for when the sweets need to be ready, so naturally, I get started on the task I’m more interested in. Mistake. They wanted the sweets by the end of the day. And I didn’t get them done. (But my book club questions were awesome, so in my mind I was winning.)

Tip number three: prioritise tasks effectively. And by effectively, I mean responding to the emails to see which one needs to be done first. If your placement isn’t in an email-friendly environment, ask aloud. I didn’t get into trouble or anything, but I did feel a bit stupid for not double-checking.

I think it’s safe to say that by the end of my placement I was glad to be out of there. And I was effectively put off that whole career choice in turn. It’s both a good thing and a bad thing: a bad thing because I’m not too sure what I actually learned about the industry while I was there (and so can I really call it experience?), but a good thing because it made me more determined to succeed in what I actually do want to do in the future.


Follow these tips if you want to make the most of your own work experience. They will help a lot – no matter what the outcome.

Can you think of any more? Write them in the comments below.


– Karis 🙂