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May 29, 2019
About Pepper

It's been a few years since I was an intern, but I still remember what it was like. If you're on a larger job with a big team, it can be intimidating to speak up and ask questions. It can also be easy to blend in, but then you may not gain as much as you want from the experience. Some interns are left on their own to sink or swim; others are micromanaged. The ideal internship falls somewhere in between.

 Construction companies like to hire interns to see which ones are a good long-term fit. While landing a full-time position is a worthwhile goal, internships should be treated as a long interview process, for both the employer and intern. Both parties learn a lot from the experience. Here are 5 things I ask my interns to do as part of their internship to give them skill sets they can take with them wherever they end up.

01.  Write down your internship goals

To consider your internship successful, what 5 things would you like to accomplish? The first week the interns start, I ask them to write down their goals and expectations for their time at Pepper. It's good to do that early and then go back and reflect on what you wrote down toward the end. Did you accomplish all of your goals? As the manager, I like to revisit the goals with the interns, and if they didn't achieve one, I try to make that happen, whether on my own job or sending them to observe another project. While many want to see a concrete pour, climb a tower crane or witness steel erection, I also occasionally have someone who wants to see site excavation, utility work or application of spray-on fireproofing.

02.  Draw the team hierarchy

I ask my interns to do this on the first day. The reason is not so they can put names with faces and understand who does what. It illustrates for them how the team works together and who reports to whom so they get a feel for individual's motives. It's easy to pick up on people's work preferences, but understanding the lines between team members  reveals a little of the "why" behind how they interface with others. 

03.  Draw the money hierarchy 

Trace how the money flows through the project. As an intern, you do not need to understand contracts, but you should understand how the contract structure impacts the project. So when you're sending an email, who do you notify and who do you copy? Understanding who people report to and who controls the money will give you an idea of who has influence and who needs to be included on decisions.

04.  Participate in a meeting 

As your career progresses, you will be asked to lead meetings on a weekly or daily basis. Public speaking can be intimidating, particularly when talking to a group that has more experience. I like to give our interns a speaking part in our owner or trade partner meetings. Since our interns are often responsible for project progress photography, I'll ask them to choose one milestone photo and present it at each meeting. It's a great way of engaging them as part of the team without asking them to lead the conversation. If you are not given the opportunity to speak up in a meeting, I encourage you to ask for a small opportunity - because like it or not, you'll be speaking in front of others the rest of your career.

05.  Seek to learn something every day

Finally, I have a Golden Intern Rule. I believe that interns should learn something new every day. In fact, I tell our interns to call me at the end of the day and ask me any question about construction if they haven't learned something new that day. Some take me up on the invitation and call almost every day. Often, their questions are technical and related to the work in progress. It gives me a feel for how much they care and what drives them, and I've also realized that opening my door gives them a resource to turn to when they would otherwise let questions go unanswered. Whether it's the supervisor on your own project, or a trade worker in the field, find someone who can answer your questions - and always make sure you ask.

As you begin your summer internship, if there's one last piece of advice I would give, it's simply to work hard and show initiative. I keep a shared document of activities for our interns. It's not a step-by-step guide telling them what to do because no one will do that after they graduate. Rather, it provides general direction for them to follow, with a column for targeted completion dates and another for them to sign off on actual completion. They manage their own progress. Our interns like it because they can turn to that document instead of asking for the next task to complete. It sets expectations, and it has helped me see who is excelling and how much they can take on - as I make my recommendation for future full-time candidates.

If you're interested in learning more about Pepper's internships, I encourage you to contact us.

About the Author

Johnny Popp

Johnny PoppProject Manager

As project manager, Johnny oversees the project planning and construction activities. His experience includes commercial office, retail and educational projects, where he excels at visualizing the finished project upfront and working with the owner and project team during construction to ensure desired results are achieved. Johnny's ability to break down complicated projects into segments and understand them at an in-depth level has positioned him to take on increasing responsibility early-on in his career, as well as lead some of Pepper's larger and complex projects as a project manager. From his own experience, Johnny has taken an interest in helping to develop interns and newer employees, and he has been instrumental in planning the  annual project engineer bootcamp. Johnny holds a Bachelor of Science in Building Construction Management, with a Minor in Construction Graphics, from Purdue University.