As you probably know by now, I have been interning at Sharecare in Atlanta this summer. I consider this position to be my first “real” job experience, although I have held various summer job positions including camp counselor, nanny, wedding server, and hotel intern since I was 14. I have truly enjoyed many aspects of every job that I have held, but I definitely prefer the structure of this corporate internship to the more traditional summer job experiences. My internship is not over yet (I still have 2 more weeks), but as this summer is coming to a close I want to share the most important insights I’ve gained as a summer intern. I tried to make these tips and tricks relevant to college students in any city, so I really hope that when you’re looking for an internship next summer, you can use this post as a guide.
1. Think Before You Pick
I’ve heard countless stories of people my age who absolutely hate their internships. Before choosing a job, be sure to really research the company and get to know the people you will be working for. If your offer is set to expire within a few days, ask for an extension to consider all of the decisions that go into accepting a job in a new city. Find out if there will be other interns, and if possible, contact interns from the previous year and ask what they loved and what they didn’t like so much. Working with 25 other interns and for a team who is truly passionate about Sharecare has really made my internship meaningful. I couldn’t imagine being in a place where there were a) no other people my age or b) people who didn’t enjoy their work. Internships aren’t just resume check-offs, they’re the start of your career. Make them worthwhile!
2. Set a Routine
Coming from someone whose friends have nicknamed her family the OCDeTars, I cannot say that this is something that everyone needs. But I strongly believe that some type of routine is the #1 tip for surviving an internship and life. You don’t have to be crazy, but just setting a general routine will probably lead to a less stressful summer. For example, I set a sleep schedule for myself that allows me to get a full night’s sleep every night, while still waking up at 6:30am and staying alert all day. I also made it a habit of going to the gym on my way home from work as an end-of-day de-stressor and I’ve found that I truly look forward to my workouts (or maybe I’m just really into Season 5 of Scandal which I have started watching as I workout). But don’t forget to leave some wiggle room. When there’s an intern outing after the workday or you want to meet a friend for dinner, give yourself a break. Rules (and routines) are meant to be broken, right? (Yes, I need to take my own advice…).
3. Explore Your City
For me, moving to a new city was almost as exciting as starting a “real” job. However, after my first week of work, I was so tempted to just lay around and relax during the weekend. Work is seriously tiring. Instead, I forced myself to text the few people I knew in the city and met up with some girls for dinner. I’m glad I set that precedent at the beginning of the summer because it made scheduling a fun outing a regular part of my week. Every city has so many cool things to offer – don’t let the busyness of life cause you to miss out!
4. Don’t Waste Money
When thinking of where to live and what you will need every week, think hard. You don’t have to live in the trendiest neighborhood when a $5 Uber ride could get you to the heart of the city in 10 minutes, anyway. Similarly, you don’t have to eat a $15 salad every day for lunch. I chose to live with a friend and her family, even though they live about 30 minutes from my office, because I knew it would be worth saving the money on rent in the end. For some, that’s not feasible, but always consider all of your options before making the decision.
5. Don’t Live Too Far Away
About that whole living 30 minutes away thing…if you are someone who absolutely despises being in a car (me) and becomes equally frustrated when stuck in traffic (also me), try not to live too far away from your office. Since I am lodging for free and with one of my best friends, I don’t have much to complain about. I have actually started to enjoy my long car rides and have definitely taken advantage of her parents’ home cooked meals each night. But if I weren’t staying in a nice house with a best friend, I definitely would not be able to deal with the drive. In fact, I don’t really see myself living quite so far from my office again in my young adulthood. Be sure to consider travel time to work when picking your apartment.
6. Pack your lunch (if that’s cool…)
On the second day of my internship, some of the interns invited me to go to lunch with them at a pizza place. Although I had gone grocery shopping and was excited about my packed lunch, I went because I wanted to make friends. By 3:00pm, I was feeling bloated and tired and hungry. I avoided that happening again by packing my own lunch for the rest of the summer. I even inspired some other interns to do the same. Making sure you eat healthy throughout the day is key to surviving a full work day. Otherwise, you deplete any and all sources of energy. That being said, feel out the culture of your workplace. If everyone goes to lunch every day, then maybe try to find something on the menu that is a bit healthier. You definitely don’t want to lose the chance to build relationships because that’s such an important part of your internship.
7. Get a Gym Membership
This is a great one. See, if you spend money on exercise, then you pretty much have to go. Otherwise you are throwing money away. I try to vary my routine so that I’m not robotically running on the treadmill every day, and so far it seems to have worked. If you’re not super into self-motivated workouts, most gyms also offer classes before and after the workday that can inspire you to get moving!
A summer internship (especially as a rising junior) is more about what you learn than what you do. With little relevant work experience and a lack of corporate skills, my contribution to the company was highly correlated with how much I learned. The more I learned, the better I was able to perform. As the summer is coming to an end, I find that what I did this summer has more to do with how much I learned about working in a corporate environment, balancing teamwork and individual tasks, communicating clearly, and solving problems than it does with some groundbreaking impact I made on Sharecare. However, I still found that my work was meaningful and that I was able to understand the Sharecare platform really well throughout the past 8 weeks, which will no doubt translate to a more experienced and well-rounded college student in the future.
9. Have FUN
In between navigating the working world and immersing myself in the Sharecare platform, I left a healthy amount of room for fun. Every day, I make a point to eat lunch with my intern friends and I jump at the chance to work in intern teams (rather than solo) whenever we are tasked with intern competitions. I recently read an article about a CEO who told her intern class that the one thing she wish she knew as an intern was “It doesn’t matter.” As an overachiever in every sense of the word, I would never use her advice as an excuse to slack off on my work duties or give forth any less than my best effort, but I see her point. I am 20 years old and this is my first job. If I mess up the formula on a spreadsheet or email the wrong person or get lost on my way to a meeting, it’s OKAY. “It doesn’t matter.” People won’t remember your small mistakes as much as you will. Do your best, try your hardest, and have fun. After all, we’re just interns!
10. Take a Break
Bask in the glory of being an intern. If you’re an intern, you don’t have a full-time job. This means that you are probably still in school. And if you’re in school in the U.S., then you have an ungodly long summer break. At Vanderbilt, we get out in May. Therefore, I spent 2 weeks in May traveling through Europe. Traveling before my internship started was the best decision I made regarding my summer job. After finals, I don’t think I could’ve adjusted to working for 8 hours per day as well as I did after spending a month lounging around at home and jet setting through Europe. When June came, I was so ready to do something meaningful. For some, it makes more sense to build a break in after your internship rather than before. It doesn’t make a difference. My point is, do not work for your entire summer. You will probably work for the rest of your life. Enjoy the last few summers you’ll ever have by planning some kind of trip, whether it be to Italy or to your local lake. Just remember, take a break!