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Kate Icely

DISPATCHES 3: An Intern’s Survival Guide

An array of antique compasses, some in wooden casings, arranged haphazardly on a dark brown surface.

An array of antique compasses, some in wooden casings, arranged haphazardly on a dark brown surface. For all the good that comes out of an internship, sometimes being an intern can be tough. Interns are dropped into a completely new environment where everyone has more experience than they do. It’s important that they make a good impression, but, at the same time, interns’ skills are only just developing, and they have no understanding of office dynamics. And what if the intern is shy? And in the whirl of instructions on the first day, her supervisor has forgotten to tell her where the bathrooms are?! Indeed, being an intern is not for the faint of heart.

I have been an intern for over a year and a half now, and I feel I have developed a good instinct for survival, no matter the obstacle. (For example, I resolved the situation I mentioned above with elegance and wit.) Here are my very best tips:

1. Take notes. You’re going to be learning a lot of things; even remembering how to print on letterhead can be hard. When you learn something new, write it down. When you need to do it again, consult your notes instead of troubling a busy editor.

2. Communicate. Anyone can ask you for help, so it’s important you let your supervisor know what you’re doing. That way she can commend you on your excellent time management skills. She can also help you if the editors descend en masse with last-minute projects; she can redistribute the work so that everything still gets done on time.

3. Know your place. You’re not going to be editing manuscripts. You just aren’t. You might get to copy edit a powerpoint presentation, and you should be grateful if you do. You are exercising your editorial skills just the same, no matter the size of the project.

4. Don’t ever complain. Being an intern isn’t glamorous, but there are many opportunities to learn. By complaining, you risk appearing ungrateful. You’re only there for three months, so don’t let anyone see that you’re not taking advantage of every minute of it.

5. Don’t mention the “J” word. You’re an intern—everyone knows you want a job. Constantly mentioning it can make the people around you feel uncomfortable. It also makes you appear desperate. (Which you are, but they don’t need to know that. Hold your head high.)

6. Save praise. When someone sends you a “Thank You” or “Job Well Done!” email, save it. It can be easy to forget your importance when you’re interning, but interns do good work and are invaluable to publishers. Don’t forget that.

7. Get a hobby. This is probably the best advice I can offer. Interns are considered the lowest of the low—and if you forget yourself, you might start to feel that way too. It’s good to have something to do outside of the office that you enjoy and are good at.

What are your intern survival tips? What have you found helps get you through?

Previous post: What’s in an Internship?

Next post: What’s an Intern Worth?


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4 Comments on “DISPATCHES 3: An Intern’s Survival Guide”

  • Rosemary Shipton


    Thanks for sharing more of your secrets and good advice, Kate. Your followers are all crossing fingers for you and hoping for a grand finale when your internship comes to an end.

    • Kate Icely


      Rosemary! Many thanks for your comment! Indeed, I think many of my followers will be waiting for a « How to Get a Job in Publishing » sort of post…. Never fear, this is your one-stop-shop for intern tips. There are many great posts yet to come. Thanks for your continued readership, Rosemary. It means a lot to me!

  • Michelle Schriver


    Kate — what, you’re no longer an intern? Congratulations on the new position!
    I like your advice here — especially #2. And I hope you expand this series to give us your take on the industry as a new employee.

    • Kate Icely


      Yes, I’m one of the lucky ones! Just this week I started a new position as an administrative assistant. I’m hoping it will give the series a little more « cred, » and I am definitely going to expand to offer advice on how to get a job. (Even though the process is so unique–it’s hard to give any concrete tips!) As for further articles from the perspective of a new hire–who knows! Watch this space…. Glad you enjoyed the article. I’m happy to have you following along!

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