Lessons From An Awkward Internship

Jaideep Patel relives the horror of his internship as he recalls the lessons learnt.
Jaideep Patel
gradmalaysia.com, publisher

I was an intern back in 2003. It’s hard to believe it was 12 years ago, but I remember it very vividly because it was an usually difficult time for me. Let me bring you up to speed.

Once upon a time

I began applying for an internship placement a couple of months before it was due to start. I studied interface design (which is in some ways similar to product design but I won’t bore you with the technicalities) and our internships were known as industrial trainings. However, I was unlucky from the start – I faced rejection after rejection. When I finally landed an internship, it was as a graphic designer in an IT company specialising in software solutions. It couldn’t be further from what I was supposed to be doing, but I had no choice. Time (and my self-confidence) was quickly running out, as I had already missed out on the first 3 weeks of my internship. I would be in serious trouble with my supervisor if I didn’t complete 14 weeks.

So, I took the offer, and off I went in my oversized hand-me-down office wear.

In an office far, far away

A big part of me dreaded the whole affair, but it was something I had to do. The only thing on my mind was FEAR: fear of failing the industrial training, fear of extending another year in university and fear of graduating after my friends have long left.

Things just got a whole lot worse when I actually began my first day at work. The office was cold and soulless; it’s interior completely void of any character. I soon found out that this was the proud project of the CEO, who was a strict follower of the laws of Feng Shui. Decorations were kept to a minimum – it was absolutely spartan. I’ve seen livelier hospital cafeterias.

It wasn’t long before I actually started meeting the people who worked there. Apart from a handful of friendly people, the office was occupied by a bevy of disgruntled characters taken straight from a TV show. There was the pretentious telemarketer with the fake (and terribly annoying) accent, the fearsome dragon lady who masqueraded as the second-in-command in the absence of the boss, the rude technical assistant who was infinitely angry at everything and everyone but himself.

This couldn’t get any worse. Could it?

The adventure begins

Remember that bit about the boss who followed Feng Shui to a T? Well, little would I know that this would immediately impact my work. I was told from Day One to abide by several rules, including:

Avoid black as a colour for my designs (because black equals death)
Avoid using design elements (bars, lines, boxes, etc) in even-numbered groups especially in fours (because four equals death)
Avoid using sharp angles or jagged lines in my designs (because sharp angles and jagged lines equal death).

This was shaping up to becoming the longest 14 weeks of my life, but I couldn’t give up. I had to persevere and complete the tasks given to me. If I was lucky, I’d probably learn something along the way too. Finishing this internship the best way possible became my only goal, eclipsing everything else. Spending another year in university was simply out of the question.

I did what I had to do, and I survived. I made some friends along the way, learnt a few new things, even though it seemed like I was thrown into a lion’s den at first. More importantly, I obtained some valuable takeaways – all of which have stayed with me. When my internship ended, I left the office much wiser than when I first walked in, and that made everything seem OK again.

Lessons learnt

Be thankful
Getting hired for an internship is a two-way street. I had to be thankful that someone somewhere believed in me enough to appoint me as an intern, give me an allowance and trust me with office equipment. Just to be clear, I did not break anything while I was there.

Be yourself
Even when I was surrounded by dubious characters, I had to remain true to myself. I knew that I couldn’t allow this bad experience to change the way I treat others, or change the way I looked at my future.

Be nice
Doing the internship was my first real work experience, which meant I had to work with others. Whether I liked them or not was another question. I had to be polite and helpful every step of the way.

Be hungry
Learning opportunities can be few and far in between, so take every opportunity to educate yourself on something new. I had to learn how to design office stationery, draw seating arrangement plans, and a few other things.