Maximize Your Summer Experience and Minimize Conflict with Clear Communication…and a Contract

Huh?  A contract?  Yes, but we’ll get to that in a moment.

First, think about any conflicts or disappointments you’ve experienced with other people lately.  More often than not, they occur because you had an expectation for the experience or for the other person that, well, fell short.  Your expectations were not met, and you’re not happy about it.

Now ask yourself:  Were my expectations realistic and clearly understood by all involved?  If you’re still disappointed, then most likely not.  “They should have known” is NOT an excuse.  Unless your expectations were explicit, then the problem was likely with you and your ability to communicate, and not with the other person.

Now take this example from interpersonal relationships and project it onto your summer internship.  How can you clearly communicate your goals and expectations for the summer in a way that can maximize your chances of having a great experience?  By developing a Learning Contract.

While it’s still early in the summer, take the opportunity to sit down and let your supervisor know how excited you are to be in the workplace…and what you hope to get out of the experience.  The CCD Internship and Co-op Guide outlines how you can work with your employer to maximize your chances of having a truly meaningful experience this summer.

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Let the boss know what you hope to gain in concrete skills, personal growth, and career development.  Together you can each make your goals and expectations explicitly know to each other, and not only increase the chances that you’ll get to do the cool stuff you hope to over the summer, but also minimize the chances of a disappointing or conflict-filled summer.  You and your supervisor can identify how you can meet the organization’s needs, while still providing the opportunity for you to learn and grow.  The Guide mentioned above outlines steps for developing a Learning Contract in the “maximize Your Experience” section, and even includes a sample document in Appendix A.

Pro tip:  If you – like me – are not always comfortable with the seemingly legalistic and inflexible term “contract,” then consider developing a “Learning Proposal” to share with your supervisor.  That way you still get to spell out your hopes and goals, the gentler tone may more appealing to the boss.

But whatever you call it, do it.  If you and your supervisor work together to set clear goals and expectations, then you’ll have a roadmap to call upon if you feel like your summer is getting off track.  You’ll be able to go back to the document with the boss, and work together to stay on the right path.  Remove the ambiguity.  Take away the “they should have known.”  Make it explicit.

You (and your supervisor) can thank me later.

Good luck on that internship!

By John Bau
John Bau Career Consultant, School of Engineering John Bau