How to Get More Than "Experience" Out of Your Internship

When most people think of internships, words like “competition”, “standing-out”, and the vaguest of them all, “experience” come to mind. Throughout these times, we tend to focus on ourselves and our accomplishments so we can plaster them on resumes and market ourselves all over again. But, what if the most intriguing resume, the furthest reaching “experience,” looked nothing like any of that? 

The vast majority of careers involve interacting with people, whether that be catering to them or leading them. When among a group of people, in a high-stress environment like an internship, it can be easy to try to prove ourselves by projecting our skill sets. This can lead to toxic doubts with self-consciousness and insecurity. Instead, if we choose not to view those around us as threats or competition, but as untapped resources of knowledge, our progression through the work force suddenly appears much more enlightening. 

This past summer, I had the opportunity to intern for a legal aid organization that represents poverty-stricken populations in anything from evictions to orders of protection. Looking back, I realize that my most memorable moments where not drafting documents or meeting attorneys’ expectations, but were my interactions with clients. Flipping the script on the common narrative of self-promotion and instead; listening, learning, and gaining perspective allowed me to see people, and specifically the life struggles of our clients, in a light like never before. I listened to women speak of their physically, emotionally, and financially scarring relationships. Others desperately relayed their confrontations with landlords, broken leases, and being left with nowhere to go.

I took these first-hand accounts into the way that I saw society and socioeconomic classes and started to understand the advantages and obstacles that are built into each one of us. This type of “experience” is much more useful than churning out well-worded documents or accruing praise. Rather, allowing others to change the way you look at the world automatically improves the quality of everything you have yet to do because with each task, you can draw on the empathy and sensitivity you have learned from others.

In a time where the media seems to suggest that our own image is most important, I encourage you to look for growth in who and what you do not know and boast this as your accomplishment. Boast the fact that you took someone else’s reality, truly saw it, and allowed it to reshape your own outlook. In a stack of job applications, most people can likely do the job well—maybe even great—but few can demonstrate how they have used their encounters with others to diversify their mindset. 

I walked out of my internship as an aggregate of each person I spoke with throughout the summer, realizing the work behind the attorneys’ success, seeing the pain behind clients’ stories, and feeling everyone’s hope towards what is yet to be. This greater understanding of communication and how it plays into my profession among many, can lead to nothing but expanded opportunities in the future.

Whatever you feel like your internship is helping you reach, I hope you realize that what sells you is so much more than logistics. When an employer asks you what you hope to gain out of your time with them, there is so much more to say than “experience”. Tell them you want to connect with them and understand what it takes to be successful, that you want to improve your real-time understanding of your field in an environment surrounded by their team. In an age where the value of people seems to be discarded, I hope you use your internship to not only gain skills, but to take in the lives of others, as it is the only way to grow beyond who you already are. 

Image Credit: IMG 1, IMG 2