The Inside Scoop on Internships

How an unpaid internships beat a summer job flipping burgers for this ADHD teenager.

ADHD teen intern typing at desk with watch and cellphone nearby at summer job
ADHD teen intern typing at desk with watch and cellphone nearby at summer job

I started this column as a summer intern for ADDitude magazine. I would organize, file, sort, and so on – but when my boss needed some ideas for an article on getting organized, I mentioned my school time tracker. Soon, I was asked to write an article on getting organized – don’t laugh – and next thing I know I’m a regular columnist.

Internships differ from RJ’s (real jobs) in several ways. They are introductions to a job or career in a difficult-to-enter field (such as publications, music, movies and advertising/public relations), are usually limited to specific time periods (like a semester), and pay little or nothing.

Why should an ADD teen consider them instead of a job flipping burgers?

Better (Paid) Job Opportunities Later On

You’ll learn what it’s like to go through the hiring process, work in the “real world” and figure out the skills you need to develop to function as a professional. You become the better candidate for entry-level positions after college graduation because employers love professional work experience.

For even easier access to entry-level, internships establish contacts that will probably help you out when you need it (e.g., letter of recommendation). Networking, anyone?

Getting In the Door

First of all, start early. Internships need to be planned ahead, and summer or semester internships usually need to be secured at least two-to-six months ahead of time. Ask your guidance counselor, visit your college career center, or have your parents talk to their professional associates to learn about internship opportunities. Most employers seeking interns recruit directly from campus career services or from sources they know and trust.

If you don’t have a resume, you’ll need one – even if your only job has been walking the neighbors’ dogs after school. Hey – that takes responsibility, schedule coordination and task management, and that’s gold to potential employers!

List all relevant experience, whether it’s from school, extracurricular activities, volunteer work or other jobs. By all means brag on yourself – you’ve got perfect attendance, you won a science fair, or whatever – just keep it down to a page, and have your parents or counselor help you with a professional format. And use spell check. Okay, duh. No employer is going to pick you as an intern if you can’t even spell the company’s name.

Apply everywhere. Employers won’t come beating down your door if they don’t know you’re out there. Don’t give up. You apply a lot. You get rejected a lot. Such is life, so accept it and move on.

Good attitude… good intern.

A good attitude makes a lasting impression and is key to success. Take on your assignments with enthusiasm, and accept criticism graciously. Be dependable and do whatever it takes to get the job done. If you’re uncertain, ask someone for help.

You will probably start with small assignments to learn the system, but take them seriously. Your employer is probably watching you, so aim to impress. Keep on keeping on.

Get to know co-workers

Watch your surroundings and try adapting. By not isolating yourself as “the intern” it becomes easier to learn the workplace, which may be different than you expected. Above all, don’t expect them to roll out the red carpet.


Get in the mindset that everyone knows more than you do. You’re a project. They know it, now you know it. Keep a sense of humor.

It’s okay to present your ideas – employers respect assertiveness. Cockiness, on the other hand, will probably tick them off. Success often depends on your ability to interact with others. Try not to “burn bridges” with people who may be of help to you later. Learn the proper way to address your boss and other co-workers.

You want me to do what? Be flexible. Even if the assignment seems like it’s not worth the time and effort, assume the responsibility and go that extra mile. You win if your team wins.


Find someone who takes interest in your job and might be able to “keep you in line.” They will help you get the most out of your working environment.

Enjoy learning! As hard as it may be, think of the value you are accruing from your work experience – even if you aren’t making any money as an intern. Bond with people in a professional sense, learn professional etiquette, and enjoy the greater success to come.