A Girl’s Guide to Distracting Herself During an Internship

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I shouldn’t be writing this list and yet I am. Why? Because honesty is a treasure and the truth is that few internships are exciting all the time. Even when you’re working at the company or organization of your dreams, you will undoubtedly have some downtime. After finishing your assignments and asking for more, you may discover that there’s simply nothing for you to do for fifteen minutes, maybe even an hour or two.

Of course, you can always pester your supervisor or other employees with innocent intern questions but sometimes they are too busy to deal with you or you have run out of questions for the time being. You can read the company’s handbook and/or website if you haven’t already (you really should by the end of your first week, if not sooner) but maybe you’ve memorized their entire history and all of their policies. Let’s face it: the coffee’s been fetched, you headed to the bathroom four times already, and you’ve doodled on all of the scrap paper at your desk. How do you keep yourself entertained? Well, knowing this situation all too well, I’ve created a girl’s guide to distracting yourself. The main idea is to be discreet and professional. Don’t do anything that will get you in trouble (i.e., leaving the office to go shopping or painting your nails in your cubicle). Here are my suggestions, ladies:

*Visit these sites for entertaining and informative reads: http://fashion.about.com/?once=true&, www.associatedcontent.com, www.urbandictionary.com, www.ehow.com, www.blogger.com, www.xanga.com, www.wordpress.com

*Check out the photo galleries on these websites: www.style.com, www.newyorktimes.com, www.washingtonpost.com, http://photography.nationalgeographic.com/photography/photogalleries.

*Bring a book: If the book is related to your career field, your supervisor can’t really complain, so long as you’re still completing your projects on time. For instance, if you’re interning at a magazine, reading a book about the magazine’s specific topic (nature, fashion, etc.) or publishing in general is perfectly appropriate. Most supervisors will not appreciate you reading chick lit during your work hours unless the novel(s) somehow relates to your assignments.

*Read the newspaper: No matter what your industry is, it helps to stay informed about the world around you. Bring in a major paper, like The New York Times or The Washington Post, and a more local one, like your town or neighborhood daily or weekly. Some of what you read may come up in a meeting, formally or otherwise, or become the talk of lunchtime. For your own personal extra credit, bring in papers from across the country everyday, from the Los Angeles Times to the Des Moines Register to the Boston Globe. For a faster, more national read, buy USA Today.

*Update your resume: Chances are, if you landed an internship you already have a resume but if you don’t, you should write one right away. You can show it employees in other departments that interest you so perhaps you can complete assignments for them, as well. If you already have a resume, make sure that it is up-to-date with your latest contact information and job experience. Spellcheck it and format it in an attractive way, including information about your education, honors, work experience, and special skills (generally limited to computer applications and knowledge of a foreign language—don’t tell them about what you special French Kissing Skill).

*Order business cards: If your supervisor didn’t print business cards for you, you should take the initiative to create your own. Depending on how long you’re interning with the company, you can put the name of the company/organization you’re currently working for on there. Otherwise, you can just put your name and contact information. Remember to have a professional email! Usually your first and last name alone are fine. Example: alice.peterson@something.com. Once you’ve designed your business cards on Adobe Photoshop, Microsoft Publisher, or a similar application, put the file on a CD or a flashdrive and take it to Staples, Kinko’s, or a similar printing shop during lunch hour or after work.

*Chat with an established employee: Have a casual conversation with someone who has been at your company/organization for at least a year and knows the dynamics of your office’s environment. You can ask questions about your specific department or the industry as a whole. Unless the other employee is an extremely busy and important person, there’s no need to set up an appointment. Just catch him/her when they have a few spare minutes. You may be surprised by all the new information you glean! Most of it may turn out to be trivial but some of it might truly benefit you in the future so listen carefully.

*Organize your email: Reply to messages you forgot to answer, forward messages that need to be forwarded, and delete messages that can go. You can also create folders for different categories of messages and sort your emails accordingly. Depending on what your personal email account contains, you may only want to check your business or school email at work. But if your personal email is inoffensive, you should be fine—just don’t get caught looking at anything R-rated!

*Do your homework: Many college students take classes over the summer, either remedially or to get ahead. If you are one such student, employers often recognize that you’re balancing school and work at the same time. Don’t be afraid to spend your spare time touching up research papers or completing a class reading; of course, be reasonable, too. You should spend more time working on office assignments during your internship hours than cramming for an exam.

*Become acquainted with the community: It’s not unusual for interns to live away from home for the summer and you might be one said intern yourself. Newcomers to any town or city should learn about the area by visiting local tourist attractions, reading local newspapers and websites, studying local maps, and using public transportation. As a young woman, you’ll probably want to know about all the best restaurants, stores, parks, and other hangouts. Ask your co-workers for guidance! Maybe during your lunch break, you can even take a nice walk outside (with a map or reliable directions stored in your purse for reference, of course).

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