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Career Corner
“Just an Intern”: Don’t Ever Think It! (A Message to Interns)

Dave Cofer -- Internships are a win-win situation for job seekers and employers alike because they offer opportunities and solutions for both parties.

Now, more than ever, interns can serve as a great source of innovation for the employers they are working for. Every organization, big and small, for-profit and non-profit is challenged with how they can do things better. This may come in the form of doing more with less, improving efficiency, driving down expenses, increasing productivity, raising customer satisfaction…it all comes back to the same thing; how do they get better. Well, who better to task with that charge than you, the intern!

Take what I’m saying to heart even if your employer fails to explicitly indentify this as an area of responsibility for you. Why? You ask. First, it’s a sure-fire way to stand apart from your peers. After ensuring that you are exceeding expectations as it relates to your regularly assigned tasks and responsibilities (this is so key, you don’t want to be out brainstorming news ways of doing things, only to compromise your “regular” work; in most environments, this would be bad!), take on the added responsibility of looking for new and better ways of doing things.

Trust me, it sounds like a lot of extra work, but it really will come to you far easier than you think. You have the benefit of being completely new to the environment and if you simply make a conscious point of being on the look-out for improvement opportunities, they will come to you. Now, here’s a little secret. It’s not as simple as going to your supervisor or manager and saying “I know how you guys can be better” at your jobs. You’ll have to do a little better than that. Also, when asked to support your recommendations, if you use words like “I think”, “probably”, “I like this way better”, etc. be prepared for a less than supportive response.

You have to bring data. Tell your employer that you have already developed the “business case” to support your ideas; they’ll love it. All the business case represents are the facts to support your idea. Be able to demonstrate how your recommendation improves the business by influencing a key performance driver / metric. What are these you ask? Typically they deal with things related to service, cost, and quality. Think of it as an experiment. Formulate your hypothesis (if you do x, y outcome will be achieved). Test your hypothesis. Absent a “lab” where you can actually perform the test, gather current state and/or historical data, formulate fact-driven assumptions about how the introduction of your recommendation would change the environment and produce a new set of outcomes. Present your findings and wala, you’re a superstar.

Now, is it really that simple? Well, probably not. But if you commit to doing these things, here’s the worst that will have happened: 1) You will have fully committed yourself to your employer; 2) You will have done all that you could to advance their business and make them better; and 3) At the end of your assignment you can walk away feeling very proud of the work that you performed. Not all bad if you ask me.

Dave Cofer is President/CEO of Cofer Consulting Solutions, a firm specializing in attracting, developing and retaining young professionals. Email Dave at David.Cofer@CoferConsulting.com. To learn more about Cofer Consulting Solutions, visit www.coferconsulting.com.

© 2009 Dave Cofer

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