I interned for 21 months with the company that would eventually hire me. It was a three-month opportunity that was repeatedly extended until headcount was finally approved almost two years later. I learned a lot during that time, including what was necessary to get hired – but I didn’t think this article would need to be written. I believed that today’s college and post-college kids have enough wisdom and ambition to figure it out on their own. Or at least I used to, until I was invited to speak to a group of students from my college who were preparing to graduate and looking for internships, and one of them (a PR major) gave me this mindblower:
“I’m sort of working an internship right now, like, ish. But I really need to find a new one. They keep asking me to do stupid stuff like make spreadsheets and run errands and I’m like, what the heck? I almost have a degree. This is below my pay-grade. Let me at least write a press release!”
Even if we ignore the “almost” – if we ignore the fact that you don’t yet actually have a degree. Ignore that this company is giving you the favor of experience and knowledge (and a paycheck!) without meeting the minimum that is required of the employees who are writing those press releases. If we ignore all of that – this is still ridiculous.
First of all – you don’t have a pay grade. A pay grade is determined by how much experience you have and how well you did at it. It’s something you earn. So far, you haven’t done anything. Yes, yes – you got a degree. You know what? So did thousands of other people. And not only that, but frankly a four-year degree is a lot easier than what a good portion of the population had to do to get to their “pay grades” – whether they have a diploma behind it or not.
But enough with the venting. Let’s get to the answer. What is the three word solution I gave this mouthy soon-to-be graduate and her classmates that pretty much guarantees you’ll get hired?
Do. The. Shit.
All of it. The things they ask you to do (happily!), the things they mention not wanting to do (volunteer!), and the things you notice going undone (surprise!). Do it all – no matter how far “below your pay grade” it is. Because this, more than anything, makes you valuable.
Sure, maybe you can write a killer press release. But you know what? So can all those other graduates. Not to mention all the employees who have already been hired. Want to really set yourself apart? Do the stuff that no one else wants to do. Because then, letting you go means they’re going to have to take it over – and they’ll never let that happen.
Be grateful for the chance to work with these people, to build your resume, to network with successful people in your field. Be greedy with the learning opportunities they are affording you, even if you can’t see yet (in your limited perspective) how it will come into play in your career. It will. Do as much as you can. Sure, running their errands doesn’t feel valuable to you – but that’s not the point. An internship is about making yourself valuable to them. That’s how you earn a permanent position.
Over time, that value will earn you more tasks, more responsibility, more privilege, and eventually, probably a replacement that you can pass the old stuff off to (or the recommendation letters you need to move on). Start by doing everything they ask (and what they don’t) and before you know it, you’ll be cranking out the best damn press releases they’ve ever seen. But you won’t GET that far if you sit around turning down assignments with a bad attitude because your measly bachelors degree over qualifies you. Let me tell you something – in today’s economy, there are lots of people with advanced degrees working for managers who didn’t go to college. Don’t underestimate the value of experience. You may remember what you read in your textbooks but your manager, colleagues, etc. have been testing and perfecting it in the real world – and regardless of what you spent on your degree, their experience has more value. You’ll get there, but you’re NOT there. The market is flooded with degrees – don’t think it makes you special. What makes you exceptional today is grit, ambition and attitude.
The value of information is decreasing. The internet has made it all available – just about anyone can learn to do just about anything with a few Google searches. College may have made you knowledgeable (though frankly that’s not guaranteed) – but it’s grit that makes you hireable.