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Every Entrepreneur Should Be an Intern First Savvy entrepreneurs can spot opportunity anywhere. Even in fetching a cup of coffee.

By Brian J. Roberts Edited by Jessica Thomas

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Zero Creatives | Getty Images

Interns get a bad rap. But savvy entrepreneurs can spot opportunity anywhere. Even in fetching a cup of coffee. That's because, unlike most, you're not interning just for work's sake. It's not about collecting a paycheck or working your way up the ladder. As a would-be entrepreneur, an internship isn't about that.

Instead, you're working to gather information -- intel. Anything that will put you at a strategic advantage in the marketplace when it's time to launch your business. Whether you're interning at a Fortune 100 company or a local mom-and-pop shop, your role is simple -- to learn. At this stage in the game, it's important that you value learning over money.

Related: 3 Ways to Make an Internship Invaluable, Regardless of Pay

This is not the time to search for a career job. That kind of position will pay more but will have more stringent commitments. The pressure to perform and rise to the occasion will sap your time and energy. In contrast, a low-level position, internship or volunteer role will allow you greater flexibility, affording you the time and energy to do your job while soaking up as much info as you can.

The best part? Seeing an opportunity to squeeze you for even more free work, employers will have no problem offering you the "keys to the castle." In return, you're able to fully learn whether or not the path is right for you.

Researchers call this "participant observation." This is when a researcher infiltrates a field of interest and becomes a member of the group being studied. Language learners refer to this concept as immersion. The idea is to throw yourself into your idea. Learn everything about it. The only thing separating you from your goals is what you know and who you know. Working for someone else helps with both.

Related: 15 Bulletproof Strategies for Achieving Your Goals

Here's where to start:

  1. Identify your field of interest. The most important thing is the objective. Objectives turn dreams into goals. Start by identifying the area of interest or field of learning you wish to pursue. Write it down and keep it short (one sentence long).

  2. Become an intern. Interns are always in demand. Why? From an employer's perspective, interns represent free labor. The best part about becoming an intern is that questions and mistakes are expected. Align the internship role with your objective.

  3. Become a participant observer. You aren't just an employee anymore. You're a researcher now. You'll be a cog in the wheel, but only so you can get an understanding of how the rest of the machine works -- what parts take you in, what parts push you away. Explore all the facets of the business to get a bigger picture of what is required. Take careful notes and make observations of everything. You'll find that as you connect one new dot to another that secondary and tertiary pathways will reveal themselves (and you'll see ways you could do something better or perhaps differently).

  4. Become a self-educator. Just because your formal education has ended doesn't mean your learning should. Learn like your life depends on it, because it does. As soon as you become an intern you should focus 80 percent of your time into learning and 20 percent towards applying what you learn. Once you've worked as an intern for long enough, flip the paradigm. Spend 80 percent of your time putting what you learned into practice. Be consistent. Be relentless,

Related: 5 Important Tips for Students and New Grads Looking for Their Dream Jobs

You're taking theoretical knowledge, knowledge acquired from, say, reading or intense personal development, and turning it into practical knowledge. Knowledge that, when leveraged properly, can produce results that have a tangible impact. This practical knowledge won't be the only thing you walk away with, either. You'll get a clear picture of how to run (or how not to run) a company.

Figure out what you want to learn, study it religiously, and put it to the test. Immerse yourself in the system and observe how successful people and companies operate. Best case scenario? You know what you want to do and how to do it. Worst case scenario? You know what you don't want to do -- which brings you closer to what you want to do. Either way, you can't lose.

Brian J. Roberts

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

Writer, Interviewer, Former CCO

Brian J. Roberts is a writer, interviewer, and former chief communications officer. His writing has been featured in The Washington Post and he's written for Entrepreneur, Business Insider, Time, CNBC and more.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

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