Making the Most of Your Internship

Interns at work

An internship is usually obtained through, or in conjunction with, a university program.  Though you're connected with your school, you are now working to hone the skills you have and are acquiring new ones.

For many, this is the first step into the professional world.  Exciting?  Tricky?  Both!

And this is where your etiquette and social skills can put you at the top of the intern class.

Good Impressions

Making a good first impression is always important.  But in the professional world, following this with a positive lasting impression can boost your career.

Physical attributes are what we initially see when we meet someone.  So it's important to look your best at all times.  Make sure your clothing matches the work environment, is neat and clean, and fits appropriately.  Casual may be common these days, but that does not include messy or sloppy.  If you're ever in doubt about what to wear, always err on the conservative side.

Just as important as the clothing you wear is the body language you express.  You can never go wrong with a smile and good eye contact!  Practice confidence and brush up on your social skills.  Many internships require you to attend receptions and other events, and the better you can mix and mingle, the better impression you will make.

Professional Behavior

Courtesy and common sense are basic to professional conduct.  A true professional:

  • Takes full responsibility for the level of work produced
  • Cooperates with coworkers and management
  • Submits relevant and creative ideas
  • Is always dependable and trustworthy
  • Only speaks positively about others

As an intern, take every opportunity to practice and demonstrate these qualities.  Be on time, do your very best, and avoid the gossip mill!

Communication is Key

Every business depends on communication - websites, social media, advertising, letters, memos, and emails.

The culture of the company at which you intern determines its communication style.  Formal, professional, relaxed, intellectual, or a blend of these.

Learning the communication style of your industry will likely be a part of your internship, but you'll have a head start if you are already skilled at speaking and writing in a clear, concise manner. 

When speaking to someone over the phone or in person, maintain a welcoming attitude.  Remember, sometimes it's what someone doesn't hear that can be a turn-off.  Enunciate your words, speak at an appropriate volume, and don't mumble.

Make your written communications feel as if you are speaking to the recipient.  Use correct spelling and grammar (proofread!) keeping with the purpose of your message.  Always be succinct, kind, and discreet.

When writing emails, be certain to include a relevant subject line, and use your company's signature guidelines and graphics if available.  And remember, never send personal communications from work!

Hanging Out After Hours

As an intern, you are in a prime position to learn "real world" lessons from those you work with.  So be aware of your listening to speaking ratio when you spend time with company employees and managers.  You never know when a learning opportunity may pop into the conversation.

After hours is when work stretches out.  If there is one time to wave a red flag, it is here.  Alcohol can be a challenge - and can put you in challenging situations - so moderation is necessary.  Also, there are lots of attractive people out there.  But your first obligation is to your work and career.

Your social skills played a big part in being chosen to intern.  While it is helpful for you to be friendly, remember that boundaries are your true friends.

Your Lifelong Internship

Being the newest kid on the block is actually a good thing.  Your inexperience makes you observant, inquisitive, and mindful to always be at your best.  However, if you maintain these characteristics even when you aren't so new on the job, you'll become irreplaceable.

There will always be something new to learn, skills to develop, and relationships to foster.  Your internship is just the first step in what will hopefully be an amazing career.

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