In late 2004, Jamie Fedorko was toiling long hours as an intern on the ill-fated CNBC show "McEnroe," hoping through hard work to turn the internship into a full-time job. The sinking ship of a talk show did not lead to the position he was hoping for, but he turned the experience into a moneymaker anyway.
Like many interns, Fedorko, then a senior at New York City's New School University, hoped the professional contacts made on the internship would help pay the bills after graduation. What he got was a hard lesson on the often transient nature of the New York media business -- and seeds for a book idea.
"McEnroe," the financial network's failed effort to turn tennis legend John McEnroe's notorious attitude into a talk show, was canceled less than six months after its premiere. As the show slumped, the full-time staffers were naturally concerned with their own employment prospects, leading to often aimless days on the job for the wayward intern.
"I didn't feel useful at all, and I really got to see what professional people go through when they know they are going to lose their jobs," Fedorko said.
He began writing missives about his experience as an intern -- calling the work "The Intern's Mantra." He now admits that most of the "mantra" included rants about being overlooked and underused.
"If I had published that as it was, it probably would have deterred people from interning, which is pretty funny," he said.
Personal Rants Become a Book Idea
Instead, he started thinking of his time on "McEnroe" and three years of working at other internships as a list of dos and don'ts for interns looking to land jobs. After the show's cancellation, Fedorko was left to fend for himself along with the rest of the production staff. Rather than chasing another job in the industry, the budding writer decided to turn his experiences into a handbook for student interns.
His first book, "The Intern Files: How to Get, Keep, and Make the Most of Your Internship," hits the shelves in March.
In addition to his own experiences on "McEnroe" and at Vibe and Paper magazines, Fedorko, now 24, sent out surveys to other interns in his university's internship program and mined the experiences of friends and acquaintances across the country. What he found was that many had gone through similar experiences and had entered their first professional experiences with similar feelings -- unsure of how best to make a lasting, positive impression.
How to Suck Up Without Sucking Up
"The Intern Files" touches on subjects ranging from how to apply for internships, what to wear on the job, and how best to make a good impression without looking like a brown-nosing suck-up. It includes an index of popular companies who employ interns and a listing of intern resources, Web sites and other books.
The book starts with a guide on how to find the right internship, which may be as easy as reading between the lines of the job posting. Fedorko says some internships can be really helpful professional tutorials, while others may just be overworked office managers looking for cheap labor.
"Pay attention to the wording of the posting for the internship. Are they looking to help you, or are they looking for a couple months of slave labor?" he said.
In that vein, he noted that, once on the job, it's a good policy to take care of the most menial tasks first to give the impression of competence. Once the easy, boring stuff is out of the way, it frees up time to volunteer for more challenging tasks.
"Do the extra work and never say no to anything," he said. "What I was always surprised about was how much clock-watching I saw. At 5 o'clock, most of the other interns were headed out the door. If you stay 30 minutes later every day, a lot of projects come open and people will appreciate that you're the only one left to do the work."
Learning Office Etiquette
Though internships across various professional disciplines vary widely, Fedorko said all interns could learn some basic rules of professional behavior. As any seasoned worker knows, learning to handle the different personalities on the job is probably just as valuable as the work itself. Fedorko suggests obvious tactics such as creating a good working relationship with other interns, and he weighs in on one of the professional world's most difficult situations: dealing with an idiot boss.
"Just suck it up and bite your tongue and be mature," he said. "Anyone can learn how to use the fax machine or file, but social etiquettes and office politics are things you use every day."
The book stresses that the most important thing an intern can learn is how to blend in with co-workers while at the same time doing the little things that will make his or her work stand out -- following directions, even if the work is dull, and communicating to supervisors that more challenging work is welcome.
And even if the internship doesn't turn out the way you expect, like Fedorko's "McEnroe" experience, there are still positive things to take away. He remains close to the show's producer and keeps a stack of business cards from many of the people he encountered while working at the show.
"In a way, the way that internship turned out was the best thing for me," he said. "If the show hadn't been canceled, I wouldn't have written the book!"