What I Learned About Internships from Being an Intern
By Craig Ames
A few years ago, I learned the concept of the unknown unknown. There were many things that I didn’t know I didn’t know when I started my search for internship and practicum sites to fulfill the requirements for my master’s degree in counseling. As the semester progressed, I’ve come up with a list of a few things that I wish I had known before I started.
1. Your Academic Career Does Not Prepare You for the World of Work – It Prepares You for Your Internship.
Don’t get me wrong, your academic career is entirely required, but the transition from the theoretical to the practical is something you will experience in the world of work, not in the classroom. You can know a theory or a machine or some financial projection, but there is an incredible surge of complexity when those factors interact in the real world. In counseling, it is the difference between knowing theories and knowing how to apply theories across sessions with a client. This is why the internship was born, as a way to help students make that transition.
2. Be Humble. Be Teachable.
You are going to start your internship in a very weird place of both knowing a tremendous amount, but also knowing next to nothing. Many internships are at the end of a program, so it is easy to walk in thinking that you are fully prepared. Even if you have done well in your program, you will need to be ready to start at the bottom. It is very humbling. The more open you are to learning and the more humble and self-aware you are about your lack of knowledge, the more you will get out of your internship. Be teachable so your supervisors will be able to develop you more.
3. Start Looking for Your Internship Site on the First Day of Your Program.
This is probably the biggest mistake I made. The academic program I joined was in flux from going online, increasing the hours required for graduation, and exploding in popularity. I also was a full-time student in a program primarily designed for evening and part-time students. I ran through the program quickly and found myself at the end with both the Internship course and the Practicum course to be completed at the same time. I also didn’t know that I had not done all of the necessary preparation work either. I should have started looking for my sites on day one of the program. I should have called, done informational interviews, job shadowing, and volunteering the whole time. When I was taking a course on theories, I should have visited private practices and talked to counselors using those theories. When I was taking a career course, I should have visited the local career center. I could have been expanding my learning and gotten to know the mental health community at the same time. Instead, I found myself out of time and unprepared, interviewing with strangers and asking questions I should have already known the answers to.
4. Networking, Informational Interviews, and Job Shadowing Are Gateways to Internships - Just Like Internships Are a Gateway to Employment.
Imagine if you will, two students applying for an internship at your organization. Both students have near identical resumes, credentials, and cover letters. One student is a complete stranger to you. The other you know because they called you a year and a half ago asking if they could talk with you about your job and your organization. They came in and were respectful and hungry to learn. They took thirty minutes of your time asking questions, thanked you for your time, and even sent a thank you email. Then, nine months ago, they called again and asked if they could job shadow you for a day or two. Since you had already had a good experience with them, you said yes. They were respectful and asked informed and insightful questions, and again were grateful for the opportunity. The choice between candidates is easily clear – you chose the non-stranger By creating that relationship beforehand, the non-stranger opened the door to many possibilities and was far more informed about options and the requirements of those internship sites.
5. Take Advantage of as Many Learning Opportunities at Your Internship Site as Possible.
My biggest regret is that I came into my internships with far too much left to do in my degree program. Internship sites take the education and training of their employees very seriously. I was lucky that the Amarillo College site offered a NCDA Facilitating Career Development course that fit into my schedule. Having said that, I am missing countless training opportunities due to homework, end of program comprehensive tests, and work. I regret loading the end of my program so much that I am unable to take advantage of these opportunities.
Program Instructors Please Share
At the end of this semester, I am having a great time and I’ve learned so much. My supervisors and professors have been fantastic and flexible. I am hoping that I can pass along some of the experiences I’ve had so that others can learn from my mistakes, make better choices, and be able to help other students navigate the world of internships with far more confidence and finesse than I did. I invite program instructors to share my “words of wisdom” to students on day one of the program.
Craig Ames is an audio engineer turned counseling student. He is in the last stages of his M.A. Counseling degree at West Texas A&M University after returning to college following fifteen years in production services. He had the opportunity to take a NCDA Career Facilitation course during an Internship at the Amarillo College Career and Employment Center. His next step is gaining another internship placement to start acquiring the three thousand hours of experience needed for LPC licensure in the state of Texas. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.