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Feast or Famine: Life As an Intern

English: Malcolm Gladwell speaks at PopTech! 2...

Within the first month of my internship, more than one colleague used the phrase “feast or famine” to describe the typical workload of an intern.

Understandably, there aren’t always projects or tasks that can be completed by a newb intern. I wouldn’t exactly leave it up to the new intern to pull a Don Draper at a client meeting during their first week, either.

I have learned that whether assignments are handed to you or created by you, gaining experience during an internship is what makes it valuable.

“We learn by example and by direct experience because there are real limits to the adequacy of verbal instruction.”

Malcolm Gladwell, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking

When I do have free time, I prefer to fill it with things that matter. So my advice is pretty clear. Whether it’s for yourself or the company, fill your time at the office with work. Finding a job is a full-time job. Try to make the internship feel that way, too.

The beauty of an internship is that you can take advantage of many of the same resources as full-time employees, but without the same level of commitment or responsibility.

Some of the benefits include:

  • Networking with colleagues and industry thought leaders
  • Building professional experience and developing interpersonal skills
  • Creating a thicker portfolio
  • Getting a more tangible glimpse into the real world

It may be easy and tempting to spend your free time aimlessly surfing the Internet, but here are some more-productive ways to fill the gaps between projects:

  • Update your résumé
  • Network on LinkedIn
  • Create an online portfolio using Weebly, a website that can help you create an online presence
  • Research the market and companies where you would like to work
  • Ask if you can shadow colleagues to better understand their responsibilities

I have also learned something important: If you have ideas you can implement yourself, speak up!

What did you do when you had free time as an intern? What was your experience like? Looking back, what would you have done differently?

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