This is a reprint from Leave Your Mark: Land Your Dream Job. Kill it in Your Career. Rock Social Media. By Aliza Licht. I’m publishing it because many students are about to begin their summer internships, and I want them to have the most valuable experience possible.
When you enter a real work environment for the first time, especially as a college student starting an internship, remember why you want to be there: First and foremost, to learn real marketable skills that can enhance your resumé and to secure a strong referral from your supervisor. You do not go about getting these things by thinking, “Oh, I’m just an intern, so this experience doesn’t really matter.” Too many people make the mistake of thinking that since they don’t “really” work somewhere, how they present themselves isn’t of consequence. On the contrary, how you present yourself matters more because you’re trying to prove yourself and break in.
By the last day of your internship, your boss should be begging for you to stay. She should be saying things like, “What are we going to do without you?” That is a lasting impression. That is a reference nailed. Here’s how you do that:
- Dress the part: The more you can dress to fit the office culture, the easier it will be for people there to visualize you as part of the team. Now, here’s where you start panicking that you don’t have the money to shop for new clothes. Listen: Shop thrift stores or borrow from friends. When my sister and I get bored of our closets we swap wardrobes. It feels as gratifying as shopping! If you can afford to, invest in accessories. A quality shoe or handbag is much harder to fake. When in doubt about your wardrobe, wear black. Black doesn’t make mistakes. Be mindful of the cuts: The office is no place for strapless or cleavage. Miniskirts can also be a no-no. You’re not stupid so you don’t need me to tell you this but… don’t dress like you’re going out clubbing. Guys, for you the advice is different. For some reason, men underestimate the importance of a clean, pressed shirt. Don’t dress like you’ve just rolled out of bed. A sleepy outfit can give the impression of a sleepy mind.
- Investigate your employers beforehand: Google the names of anyone you know who works there. Study them and memorize who they are. There’s no excuse for not knowing who the CEO of a company is—when you end up in the elevator alone with him, you don’t want to mistakenly ignore him. If you can, it’s also smart to examine your future coworkers’ body language in photographs; are they really smiley and having fun or are they serious and stiff? If they’ve been quoted anywhere, what did they say? What do people say about them? Think like an investigative reporter and come up with a few takeaways as to what the tone of the office might be like.
INSIDER TIP: Know the players or you won’t know how to play the game.
- Be on time: No, better yet, get there before everyone else does. If your boss shows up and you’re already in the office, that’s bonus points and if you ask your supervisor the night before what project you could start in the morning, you’ll achieve rock star status in no time. Going above and beyond will pay off, I promise you. And if you have the nerve to be late, guess what you’re giving off? The “I don’t really value this opportunity” sign. You may as well pick out your tombstone now, because, honey, you are dead and buried.
- Remember, you’re not one of them: You don’t actually have a job, you have an internship. Your boss doesn’t want to hear unsolicited information about your boyfriend problems or what you ate for dinner last night, and she certainly doesn’t want to hear that you’re so tired because you were out partying until three a.m. On the flip side, your boss doesn’t want to be interrogated by you either. Don’t ask personal questions. You’ll know if and when the relationship evolves because she’ll start voluntarily disclosing personal tidbits about her life. Even then, you’re better off as the listener than the blabbermouth. It should not be you sending the first “we’re friends now” signal.
INSIDER TIP: Filter what you say to your boss.
- Learn to self-start: Not every manager is good at delegating and giving direction, so taking the initiative to make your own work goes a long way. Nothing is worse than seeing an intern sitting around because he has nothing to do. If you can’t figure out what you should or could be doing, then by all means, ask.
- Yes, yes, yes and also yes: When it comes to work-related tasks, the only word you know is “yes.” And not yes with an attitude, a sigh or an eye roll. It’s “Yes!!” with bells on. Managers should not be made to feel like they’re putting you out by asking you to do something, and saying “yes” when your body language is saying “don’t bother me!” is not good interning strategy. Of course, if you’re ever asked to do something that makes you feel uncomfortable, by all means do not do it. No job is worth sacrificing your values or morals. You’ll know where to draw the line.
- Social media: It’s tempting to post on social media as the day goes on, but focusing on your job is a better idea. Remember that people can see what you post! You definitely don’t want to give off the impression that you’re not taking work seriously. You also don’t want to look like your mind is elsewhere, or worse, get caught talking about your colleagues (even anonymously) behind their backs. It goes without saying, but I’ll say it just in case: Don’t post about your internship! What happens in the office stays in the office.
INSIDER TIP: Read the company’s social media policy before posting anything—even after hours.
From the book LEAVE YOUR MARK: Land Your Dream Job. Kill it in Your Career. Rock Social Media by Aliza Licht. Copyright (C) 2015 by Aliza Licht. Reprinted by permission of Grand Central Publishing, New York, NY. All rights reserved.
I’m currently interning somewhere and this article just helped me restructure my thinking and reorder my priorities.
Great Points to keep in mind! I once met an intern who had casual conversationes as well as business conversationes with everyone, the announce Point was that she takkend very loud… So keep that in mind too, your conversationes are best heard only by the people who are involved only.
… Conversations … Annoying point … She talked very loud … haha, hope this little translation helps :)
Never ever say “no problem.” As your manager I don’t want to hear that whatever I have asked of you isn’t a problem. I want to hear “Yes,” or “Right away,” or the like.
Yes, I know that “No problem” is used all the time. But “No problem” sends an unintentional message that is very different from a simple “Yes!”
Oh, and “No problem” is not a suitable response to “Thank you.” Always say “You are welcome.”
It is wonderful to see these blogs up for myself and the generation I am in. You would believe that for most people, these helpful hints would be common sense in the workplace. I do like to see the comment Stevan left about using “No problem” because that seems to be one of my biggest downfalls in the workplace. Thank you for the pointers in my future work.
The haze in the distant horizon becomes clearer
as a college student, this post was very helpful, i totally agree with everything you mentioned, what i agree with the most is what you said about social media , thank you!!
i will definitely read more of your blog
Have got some speeches of mine into the blog it was just awesome
i’ll read more to investigate
Luckily I respected all of the rules you mentioned during my first internship. In fact, last week I got a call from the CEO of the company, and he was telling me that there’s a spot available for me if I ever wanted to come back. I think the reason behind this can be related to tip #5. This is actually extremely important. Always find something to do. Even if you’re told that you can go home earlier just because there’s nothing more you can do, ask for something. Always.
While I don’t disagree with any of the above points, I’m a bit disappointed that all of the advice basically revolved around “knowing your place” as an intern. I had a phenomenal intern some years back and what made him phenomenal, in large part, was the fact that he had the knowledge, skills and confidence to (believe it or not) act in my stead when I needed to be out of the office. I appreciated his unique perspective and approach and am certain it benefited the organization a great deal. After observing him & working with him on the job, it was clear to me that he was entirely competent to take on such a challenge. He proved me right and was an absolute blessing to me and to the organization. We’ve both moved on, but I’ve since enlisted his (well-paid) help on more than one occasion.
Interestingly, in my recent work with new grads, one of the most-frequently cited concerns is that their future employer will expect them to be able to do the job well from day one. Anyone over the age of 40 will be well aware that this is utterly ridiculous, and that – in almost every case – 80% of what we do on-the-job has been learned – wait for it…you guessed it. On the job. Unfortunately, this fear, along with the unrealistic expectations that spawned it, is hampering many young grads pursuit of meaningful, motivating work and cheating our world of so much value ready to be mined.
If low-level work is all interns are exiting school prepared to do, we have bigger problems in higher ed than I even thought. My guess, however, is that many of these freshly-minted folks have a great deal more to offer and should be tapped for their perspective and valuable contributions. Additionally, I cringe at the thought of teaching yet another generation of jobseekers to jump through meaningless hoops, prostrating themselves at the foot of the (quite frankly) pretty clueless establishment in the hope of being graced with a job. Better to make good use of what they have to offer than to try to teach them to fit into the often-outdated status quo.
Then again, perhaps Ms. Licht covers that elsewhere in the book :-).
I must agree with what Gwen said, considering the expectations some companies have from their interns. It’s impossible to know everything from the first day on the job and it does take some time to integrate in an office environment. It doesn’t mean interns don’t have the necessary social skills or that they aren not team players, some things just take time. However, I do agree with Aliza Licht when it comes to having initiative. I for one, don’t need “robots” that do only what they are told and don’t come up with their own ideas and initiaitves. Even if it’s a bad idea, I want to see that a person is involved and cares enough about their job to try and come up with improvements.
Solid tips! Number one thing I learned interning is knowing your what your manager’s style is like. Some want you to figure it out on your own, and others want you to come to them for help. It’s all about knowing what they’re working style is like. :)