How to Be a Better Intern … Without Superpowers

After only a few weeks at my internship, I realized something: If I wanted to be a better intern, I needed to read minds.

I had just finished making a 150 page textbook for one of the courses that my office runs for retiring Foreign Service Officers when my boss came in for a “final check” before sending it off to the printer.  As I scrolled through each page, my boss gave me tweaks and corrections, muttering things like “Oh, yeah, he wanted us to change that after last year’s presentation.”  At first, I was impressed that my boss could remember all of these important little things, but I quickly became nervous.  I realized that the only way I could do a better job was to anticipate the changes that my boss was going to make, and since they were not written down anywhere, that meant reading her mind.

Even though I knew that goal was a bit of a stretch, I tried to figure out what I could anticipate in my internship.

In order to anticipate tricky situations and avoid wasting everyone’s time trying to fix things and tracking down help, I learned to fix the copy machine when it jams.  Making copies is not a huge part of my job, but because of the nature of our work, everyone, even my supervisor, ends up spending a few minutes a day wrestling with the machine.

Office Space Copy Machine

The wrong way to fix the copy machine., from the movie Office Space

Now, this isn’t just a little desktop printer, this is a piece of equipment that is 5 times my size and probably doubles as a tank.  It’s big, it’s bulky, it’s loud, and it is intimidating.  But I knew I could not avoid it, so I took the first paper jam I came across and fixed it.  It was frustrating, but now I know I don’t have to bother anyone else with paper jams.  It also felt good to take initiative and do something about a minor problem.