It’s Time for Interns to Stop Hating on Coffee Runs

November 17, 2016, 9:00 PM UTC
Barista closing lid of disposable coffee cup
Barista closing lid of disposable coffee cup
Westend61—Getty Images

The Leadership Insiders network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute answers to timely questions about careers and leadership. Today’s answer to the question, “How do you turn an internship into a full-time job?” is written by Samantha Subar, global public relations manager at Spredfast.

On the first day of my internship, I was handed a laptop, emailed a contract, and shown to my desk. That’s all—no new-hire orientation, no manual. The rest was up to me.

That was nearly three years ago. The trajectory of my eight-month internship relied entirely on my own ambition, and quite frankly, my desire to land a job. I found that there are three basic practices that interns should adopt in order to land a full-time offer:

Follow the leader

It won’t be difficult to identify the individuals you admire at your company. Do some calendar stalking and you will find the leaders—their schedules will be packed with meetings. Ask to join those meetings—as many as they will allow you to attend—and then sit in and listen. Try to absorb the dialogue taking place inside the room, understand what’s working, and note what isn’t.

As an intern, this practice almost felt like cheating: I had regular exposure to the most brilliant minds of the business. While I would listen intently to the conversations taking place, what was more useful was to observe the leaders’ methods of communication. If they disagreed, how did they articulate their disapproval? Would they explain their thought process, or give one-word answers?

Not every intern is privileged with that level of access. But there were certainly meetings that were off-limits to me. When that happened, I looked to other outlets of observation. I read articles these leaders authored and asked my manager to fill me in on meetings I couldn’t join. If the content was confidential, I asked about how they were conducted.

Be a duck

Just ahead of one of our largest and most stressful customer events of the year, my boss at the time pulled me aside to share some advice that will stick with me for the rest of my career. “Today is going to be hectic,” she said. “Something will go wrong and it will be overwhelming, but all the while, you need to be a duck. Paddle furiously beneath the water and work through the chaos, but maintain cool composure up top where people can see you.”

Over time and experience, I’ve learned to paddle through the craziest of days. For example, I begin every day with a “doable to-do list,” a Post-it note that can only have three items on it. Miscellaneous tasks will surface and priorities might shift, but having a shortlist at the start of the day will keep you focused.

Don’t be above grunt work

Without question, your ability to overcome obstacles will be one of the deciding factors of your future employment. In the investment banking world, this is called the “punch test.” You’re working long hours and stuck alongside the person in the other cubicle—is that person someone you want to be with in the trenches? Or will you fantasize about punching them after two months?


A common test in the tech world is the “coffee run,” in which managers have interns input a seemingly never-ending source of data into a spreadsheet. It’s something that every intern will—and should—have to experience, and shows managers how willing interns are to get their hands dirty. Millennials such as myself have earned a reputation for sticking our noses up at work that that we deem “beneath us,” and that’s why it’s so important to remain positive, even if you’re asked to do grunt work. You don’t get to skip the mailroom and go straight to the boardroom.

Be willing to do any job, but elevate yourself to the point where you’re trusted to do any job. Often what’s been stereotyped as a demeaning intern task is an exercise in teamwork and, depending on the complexity of the order, attention to detail. Be the person who gets coffee and thrives in their role.

I would be remiss to not call out to any employers who are reading this: There is a wealth of opportunity for you to learn from your intern and vice-versa. Interns don’t have to just be coffee runners and spreadsheet fillers; if you give them an opportunity to earn their stripes and take on meaty projects, you’ll be able to get a sense of the type of full-time employee they’ll be. Hiring and onboarding an intern who has a deep knowledge of the company and a proven willingness to learn saves you both time and money. That’s not altruism; it’s good business.

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