Are you starting a summer internship soon? Hopefully, you've been accepted for one of the positions you applied for in your chosen field, and you're getting ready to shift your focus from academia to the business world because that's what getting practical experience in your chosen career field is all about. Learning how to REALLY do what you want to do when you grow up.
If you're going into an established internship program somewhere, you've probably received a packet of instructions and information to prepare you for your job. Read it and pay attention to the details. Most businesses have standard kits they send out to their incoming interns. If you haven't gotten anything yet and were accepted months ago, it's time to follow up with the person who is your contact at the company to find out if there's anything you've missed. It's very important to start out your internship on the right foot and make the best first impression you possibly can.
Sometimes, basic information like what to wear to work, and the hours you'll be working, can be assumed. If you're working at a big company or law firm, you'll probably be expected to wear business attire. But not necessarily. Even the staff on Capitol Hill have a more relaxed dress code during the summer when the Members of Congress aren't around as much. Some law firms adopt "casual business attire" - unless you're meeting with clients - dress code in the summer, but they all define it differently. Companies have various policies for different days of the week sometimes. It's important to know how you're supposed to dress so you can be prepared.
At Weddings in Vieques, our new intern guide is very specific (and a little bit weird) because our interns are coming someplace that is in a remote location (an island seven miles off the coast of another island) where everything they need once they get here must be ordered and shipped in. You can't arrive three days before a wedding here having packed only high heels because our staff doesn't wear heels when we're working wedding events. Not only are there no real shoe stores on the island (and Crocs won't cut it), you won't have time to hunt down something appropriate and nothing can be ordered to get here before the wedding.
And why don't we let our interns wear the current fashion trends such as platform heels? Because 25 percent of the time they're standing in sand, 25 percent of the time they're trying to walk on badly-maintained, rocky roads and sidewalks, and 50 percent of the time they're running 100 miles per hour from Point A to Point B. NOTHING is more humiliating than doing a face plant in front of the bride and groom and 60 wedding guests. No, trust me, I've landed on my butt with an audience plenty of times when wet tiles and gravity were not my friend. My point: There's always a good reason for the guidelines you're given for your internship. Rules and guidelines have been written for a reason, do not ignore them. It's the worst way to make a first impression.
Some internships provide housing and it's important to know what is provided and what you'll need to pack or ship ahead. If you're going to have to bike to work, you'll want to make sure you have a backpack to hold your laptop and whatever else is going with you. If you're working primarily outdoors, pack extra sunglasses, hats and sunscreen. If you're interning on Wall Street or on K Street, go ahead and pack supplemental Vitamin D because you're not going to the see the light of day for the next three months. It'll be dark when you leave for work, and dark when you get home because that's what kind of job you've accepted.
Wherever you're interning, it's very important that you make an excellent first impression, both in your communications prior to your arrival and when you first start work. You don't want your immediate supervisor thinking "Thank God it's only for the summer" when you arrive - you want them thinking of you as a potential future employee.
Here are some 10 tips that will definitely make a good first impression at your internship:
1. Call everybody "Mr." or "Ms." until you are told to call them by their first names. You are still a kid, and some of your supervisors may be in their sixties, or older. They'll correct you immediately if they have a casual corporate culture. But there are still some places where formality is the norm and expected from the most junior staff (who outrank the interns). You can never go wrong using "sir" or "ma'am" when responding to a senior member of the company. They'll tell you if you don't need to use such polite vernacular.
2. Be very careful about every email you send before and after you arrive at your internship. Pre-internship, if you receive an email on which others are copied, automatically "reply-to-all" when responding. That is normal business etiquette. If you weren't supposed to be communicating as a group, you would have all been blind-copied. Spellcheck everything. Read all emails (and the attachments) very carefully before you hit the "send" button, there may be more than one question or instruction in that email. You don't want to arrive for your summer internship being thought of as that new intern who can't follow directions. For real.
3. Adhere strictly to the dress code, and when it doubt, dress up, not down. After a few days, you'll get the gist of what everybody else is wearing and you can follow their lead. An internship is not the time to express your individuality with your appearance. Nor is it the time to rock that fashionable "messy ponytail" look all the girls wear on campus. You want to stand out for your performance and blend in the rest of the time, always looking professional. I'm not saying don't wear bright colors, but if you've been known for wearing a big bow in your hair your entire educational career, this summer might be the time to kick the habit. You want to be taken seriously, right? Same with raggedy-looking facial hair, gentlemen. Invest in a new razor and plenty of blades for the summer.
4. On your first day, you should try your best to conceal body art and remove facial piercings. If everybody else at work is wearing them, put that nose ring back in! If the boss is rocking visible tattoos, you can show off yours too. But unless you're positive that's acceptable in the office, don't wing it and hope for the best. Sometimes businesses where you would expect to see more "creative" people sporting colorful hair and piercings aren't at all what they seem. Don't make any assumptions and end up wishing you hadn't put bright blue streaks in your hair the week before the internship began. You can always add them later.
5. Even if you've interned in the same career field before, don't assume you know anything about your job when you arrive. Your internship supervisor is expecting you to arrive with the same basic writing skills and business etiquette that anybody else getting ready to graduate from college would have, but they don't expect you to know how to run proprietary software and systems that you've never seen before. We don't expect our interns to know everything there is to know about destination weddings - if they do, they should have been looking for a real job and not an internship. You're coming to learn, so unless they're asking for a volunteer who knows how to run that copier or coffee machine, take notes, listen and keep your mouth shut until you've tried what they're telling you to do. Write down absolutely everything. Your boss will see you taking notes and be impressed.
6. While you want to start out strong and impress the business where you're interning with your skills, don't come on too strong from day one. Give yourself a little time to get acclimated and comfortable before you let your bossier, more-aggressive side show. Big smiles, listening ears and a positive attitude will get you plenty of attention. Volunteer when the boss asks who has a minute to do something for them. We notice this stuff.
7. Unless you are expecting a call from a client, do not even bring your telephone into meetings with your supervisors. We aren't stupid. We see you checking texts and social media notifications under the conference table. You're not just looking at the time. Wear a watch for that - you're a grown-up now. Unless you are using your personal cell phone for work (which my interns do all the time because it's faster to tweet for marketing purposes and do other social media projects on an iPhone), you shouldn't even have your phone out and visible at work. If you do have the privilege of using your phone and working on social media, don't abuse it.
8. Stay off social media during work hours unless it's part of your job. It's not just the computer systems that are monitored, we watch YOU too. Getting caught snap-chatting or dressing Kim Kardashian on the clock is the kiss of death. And we might not even tell you that we saw you doing it if we've already given up, leaving you to wonder why you're not getting plum assignments or extra attention. I had one intern who believed I was oblivious to the fact she was taking an online class on my company's computer when she was supposed to be interning for me (something expressly prohibited unless specifically approved). She was the only one in our office who didn't know that I knew exactly what was going on. Until her exit interview and evaluation.
9. Do not call in sick unless you are dead or in the hospital. If you have something awful and possibly contagious, go into work anyway and talk to your boss (don't breathe on him or her), and see if they tell you to go home. If it's crunch time on a project you're assigned to, they may send you home with a laptop and to-do list. You can dial in to participate in meetings from home without infecting anybody. In the adult world, sometimes we have to work when we're sick. You might not be told to go home and get rest. If you are, make sure that's what you do.
10. Take full advantage of the learning and networking opportunities being afforded to you by this internship. Do not waste your time, or the company's time, by being irresponsible or immature. Don't go out and get hammered on "school nights," your bosses are not so old that we can't recognize a hangover or that God-awful stench of beer sweat that some people ooze the day after they tie one on. And if you were having that much fun, we can also probably find some pictures of your debauchery on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram if we care to waste the time looking. Make work your priority during the week (and weekends if necessary) the entire time you're fortunate enough to be an intern.
Companies do expect more out of paid interns (whether it's a stipend, housing or tuition funding) and you shouldn't disappoint them. With that said, I worked like a demon at my first unpaid internship in Washington, DC, and became managing editor of that national political trade magazine less than six months after I graduated from college. So you never know what may happen. Don't assume that an unpaid internship doesn't give you the same or more compensation, one way or the other, as a paid position.
Do you even realize how lucky you are to have scored an internship in your chosen career field? We received more than 300 applications for the two summer positions with my company. Plenty of truly-qualified, wanna-be wedding planners were turned down for a variety of reasons and we believe the interns we've chosen are the best and the brightest that applied. Sometimes, we wish we could take more interns because of the quality of the applicant pool, but we have a budget and only so much time to spend teaching college students how to do our jobs. If you got your first-choice internship, something about you really got the company's attention and they're looking forward to your arrival. Don't blow it by doing something stupid like showing up in sneakers the first day.
A final note for those of you who took an internship that wasn't the one you really wanted - take advantage of the opportunity as if it were your first choice! You don't know for a fact that you won't fall in love with the company and want them to hire you after graduation. You may have felt more comfortable applying for the other position because of your existing skillset, but the job you've accepted will probably teach you more new things that you've never been exposed to before. Do not pout and waste this internship. Embrace it and suck as much out of it as you possibly can.
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