The Workplace

How do I graduate from getting coffee?

By Colleen Sabatino, The Intern Coach

That’s a tricky question and the answer depends on many variables. Before you say no to coffee running, let’s examine the various scenarios: 

  1. Reread the description of your internship, checking carefully to see if running errands, such as getting coffee, is included. If not, you have the grounds (sorry about the pun) to ask your intern supervisor if that’s one of your legitimate duties. He or she may be unaware that you’re getting coffee and can arrange to have you reassigned to more responsible duties. At the very least, your intern supervisor can advise you on the office dynamics, which could mean that you’ll continue to get coffee.
  2. Use coffee as a networking tool if you’re being asked to get coffee or tea. It’s a good opportunity to get to know your co-workers and build professional relationships that will translate into help when you’re working on more important duties or need assistance with office technology. Someone has to get the coffee and if you’re the most junior person in the office, you’ll probably be given the task. So you might as well smile and be pleasant and get to know who likes cream and sugar. You might find it an opportune moment to start a conversation with a staffer since many people like to chat over their coffee. You could find yourself asked to participate in a meaningful project as a result.
  3. Consider if your internship is paid or unpaid. If it’s paid, you probably don’t have a very strong case for refusing to get coffee unless your work description says so. Even full-time employees get coffee. Rather than finding the duty demeaning or discriminatory, consider it your rite of initiation into the office community. It can also be a test to see how you fit in to the team environment. All businesses and jobs have menial aspects that affect everyone. Famous chef Thomas Keller of The French Laundry and Per Se has been known to clean dishes when the dish room is backed up. 
  4. Research alternatives to getting coffee. Find out if there’s a coffee self-service company or a coffee delivery option in the neighborhood. Look for a new high tech coffee machine that would be enjoyable to use, ensuring that co-workers would want to go get their own coffee. An improved coffee delivery system might improve office morale and be a status symbol for the administration. Present your report to your intern supervisor, who will decide how to process it. If you still end up getting coffee, make it fun for everyone. You could give an impromptu weather, sports or news report, or quote for the day along with the coffee. Your co-workers will like you and may choose you to work on their team someday.