ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, March 25, 2007
Vol. 41 - No 43

The intern's guide to the galaxy

By Rukshani Weerasooriya

Remember that raw, gawky feeling of going in for a new job? It starts with that awkward walk you do straight into the wrong building, for your job interview; the stiff conversation you have with the receptionist, when you finally find the right building; the even stiffer conversation you have with the guy in the lift who reminds you to push the button with the big '4' if you really want to get off on the fourth floor; and finally, that strange hoarse laugh you never knew you had, with the nervous grunt at the end.

The best getaway if you’ve got too many pencils to count

Such was my terrible predicament on Monday, the eleventh day of the beautiful month of March, in the year two thousand and seven. I forgot all the things my mother had told me about being calm and breakfast being the most important meal of the day. I also forgot what my slightly successful, if more competent, friends had said to me about the importance of looking confident when you first walk in to a prospective place of work. All those lovely bits of wisdom seemed to fly out of the window the moment I stepped out to walk, very insecurely, in to the (correct) building, after several failed attempts at finding it.

Having reached the ostentatious, grandly intimidating conference hall at which the interview was to be held, and having survived the interview, I gathered I had been allowed on board the firm (albeit as a mere intern) pending possible employment at a later date. This couldn't be so bad, right? I mean, it was certainly better than hearing, "You can go home, child. You're 'overqualified' for this job. And besides, you look silly." Three more stiff conversations and I was sure this was the natural course of my life, and only history repeating itself meticulously, and therefore that there was no need to force open the window and throw myself out on to the road below, in shame.

Internships aren't so bad, really. In fact they are a flexible means to gaining an understanding of the job you think you want. At the end of an internship, you might realise you don't really want the job. And that's fine. Or you might realise you love it. Which is fine too.

But, I assure you, once again, internships aren't so bad, really. In my case, however, the only problem is, I am a college graduate, and this would be the third internship I have engaged myself in since I turned twenty. Still no sign of a real job or a real pay cheque. While I'm not sure it's hurting anything more than just my pride to be an eternal intern, I find myself slightly hesitant in answering the question feared by all lazy but creative people, "What are you doing with your life now?" when my only reasonably acceptable answer can ever be "interning", it seems.

Too hot to sit on?

Nevertheless, for what it's worth, here is a brief list of observations I can safely make regarding the idea of interning at a top firm, no matter where or in what field. These should come in handy, if only to bring that smug smile to your face when you most need it, while sitting at your desolate corner of the office, next to a plant, or the sink. And where your best view is most likely the back of a bookshelf, or better yet, the blankest wall in the building.

1. You will always feel you couldn't look stupider when you first walk into a closed glass door, and shortly after recovering from the shock of it all, see the security guard frantically motion from inside, that you need to swipe your card to get in. Your first question is, "What card?" That's normal.

2. It will take you at least three weeks to find your way to the washroom without having to ask for directions, and bump into the boss, in the process. At which point you will pretend it's the filing cabinet you're looking for. Not the washroom. What would a busy intern want to do in the washroom for the fourth time today?

3. Your senior colleagues will rarely think you are a "big help" when you count all the pencils in their drawers, as requested, and note that they have twelve and not fourteen red ones in drawer number two.

4. Other mentally challenging tasks are on their way, don't worry.

5. Whatever they make you wear to work, you'll still feel like a phoney. The particular internship that I'm engaged in currently requires me to wear a saree. That would be fine, if I had a collection of decent saree blouses and everyday sarees, instead of one highly unflattering lime green blouse to which I desperately match every other saree I can find in my closet and in my sisters closet. I end up, most mornings, looking somewhat like a plant. Just very green. Needless to say, I show up at work flustered and tired from my early morning efforts at looking elegant.

6. The lunch room isn't quite so exciting. It is just a room. And you must bring your own lunch.

7. There will very probably be no eye candy at the office, but there'll always be those two devastatingly beautiful women who will look like they woke up in a bed of rose petals that morning and that their sarees were custom made to match their brilliant song-bird type moods. They'll walk into the room, or across from where your desk is hidden behind the plant, by the sink, and you'll almost think you heard little bells go off around them. The sole purpose of these women, inadvertently of course, is to make you feel like you have two left feet and no hands. You'll be convinced, at the end of each day, that they hogged all the pretty attributes in the world and left you with nothing. Thank God for the plant you hide behind.

8. When given a task, don't stare at the person giving it to you and pretend you understand what they're talking about. They are likely to tell you to ask them if you have any questions, and they will assure you that by asking, you won't be considered stupid. This is a lie. They are well aware of the fact that you are stupid. Rest assured, however, that they would be delighted to oblige if you ask them to explain again what they want you to do. They are especially obliging while on their lunch break.

9. Do not do the nervous giggle with the grunt. Do the nervous giggle if you must, but not the grunt.

10. If you're lucky, you might find week one exciting, if nothing else, because of the two cups of tea and one glass of orange crush you'll get every day without needing to ask, pay or beg. After a while, though, possibly after about a week and a day, you start thinking you can make better tea, so who cares if it's free?

Having shared these treasures with you, I am confident that you will be well-prepared for the hurdles you will face as a young intern or junior employee. Give it up, if you feel it really isn't something you want to do with your life right now. After all, this is only the beginning of your professional journey. There'll be many more chances if you seize them. So don't hesitate to up and go, if you're not 'feeling' it. But do so only once you know you've tried your very best to reach for the stars. And had as many free drinks as possible.


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