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It’s that time of year again. In a few short weeks, students will begin their internships at companies throughout the country, hoping to get their foot in the door, impress their bosses and land the job of their dreams. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Before you turn an internship into a full-time job, you need to get the basics down first.
Be Prepared…Assume nothing. You’re going into the unknown. Make sure you have the proper materials with you – pens, a notebook and your laptop - bring your resume, too, just in case your project manager wants to get an idea of your experience. And presentation is everything. Even as a seasoned professional, I felt a little immature walking into a business environment carrying my Jansport so I ditched it in favor of a more mature looking messenger bag. You want to come across looking like an adult, not some student carrying text books to class.
Dress for Success…Always wear a suit or dress the first day – I don’t care what you saw when you toured the facility. It’s a matter of respect to wear business professional attire to the office. The company is welcoming you into their home, so dress like you are thankful for the invite. I, personally, believe in wearing a suit at all times (slim fit always looks best to me), because you want to always look your best and feel confident at work. However, if the job is very casual, there are ways to stand out professionally in a casual way. Pinterest will help you out if you aren’t sure how to fit in.
Put your Phone Down…We live in an era of technology where people seem to forget where they are when an important text comes in. Your internship is a job interview spaced out over several weeks. Would you whip out your phone in the middle of a job interview to like someone’s Instagram post? No. So, keep the obsessive compulsive phone disorder to an extreme minimum. I remember once, while working for the City during budget season that I had to attend a meeting I had already been to once before. I was answering press questions about my agency’s budget over my phone and, when the meeting was over, someone came over to me and said, “Everyone knew why you were on the phone, but it still felt disrespectful. Maybe you didn’t have to come.” So, people notice and they pass judgment. When respect is what gets you in the game, any sign of disrespect will knock you out of the competition – and it is a competition.
Don’t Change the World...You have always wanted to work for Company A and now you have the chance via this amazing internship opportunity. You have a million ideas and you just know when the boss hears how you can take Company A to the next level, you won’t just get the job, you’ll get a corner office and a kickass title they don’t even have for common executives. “I’m going to give it a day, but I think I will try to schedule a meeting with the CEO this week. Can’t wait to share my innovative strategies.” Wait!! Wait a long time. People don’t like people who try to change the world on their first days at work. Even bosses don’t like people who do this. The company has been around for how many years – what makes you the authority on making it go to the next level, especially when you are brand new? You don’t know what ideas have been tried. You don’t know why a company chooses to go one way when you would go the other. The internship is a perfect time to make a good impression based off your skills and there will be time, at many companies, where your input will be requested, so wait until that time comes. Don’t rub people the wrong way right away.
Don’t Pretend (Ask Questions)…You are assigned a task and you realize you have no idea how to accomplish it. But you don’t want people to know you don’t know. Unless it is something incredibly elementary, it’s ok not to know everything. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, because if you don’t and you try to perform the task without the knowledge to accomplish it, you might make a big mistake that may hurt your chances of getting an offer for a full-time position. Here’s the caveat. You can only ask specific questions once. When you get the answers, you must commit it to memory and get the job done properly. If you ask more than once, it looks like you don’t know what you’re doing.
Be Respectful…You may walk into a company and watch as co-workers share witty banter and sometimes inappropriate dialogue. They may take playful jabs at one another, too. And just because you want to fit in, it doesn’t mean you get the right to jump into the fun with both feet. Remember when your dad told you, “Do as I say, not as I do?” It applies here. You need to earn your way into the company culture and that’s through respect. Shake everyone’s hands. Remember people’s names. Introduce yourself to people you haven’t met. Offer to help on even the most menial tasks. Show them you are there to get the job done. Show glimpses of your personality, but in very small doses and when the time is right. Feel it out. You don’t want to be the awkward one.
Do Whatever is Asked…You’re an intern. You’re not getting paid much and you may think you’re not getting paid enough to take on whatever task insults your intelligence. Too bad. It’s the Karate Kid approach. Sometimes you have to paint the fence before you fight the championship match at your local dojo. The same school of thought applies. They need to trust you with making copies, stapling said copies, arranging copies in a neat book with color-coded tabs and dispersing said copies to staff, before they start trusting you with bigger tasks that may actually impact the company bottom line. Your time will come. Patience will get you far in life and on the job.
Internships can be extremely rewarding, but they are hard work. As I mentioned earlier, they are an extended job interview. Job interviews are scary, but if you go into it prepared, the opportunities are endless.
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