After months of editing your resume, relentlessly hunting for internships, and shopping for the perfect interview outfit, you finally landed a summer internship! Whether you’ve set your sights on the corner cubicle or the tent by an ancient archaeological dig, you’ll need to brush up on your intern manners in order to put your best foot forward.
1. DO smile
Employers and internship supervisors want to know that they’ve hired someone who is happy to be there, so show them that you are! Kelsey Mulvey, a junior at Boston University, polished her positive attitude during internships at Lucky magazine, Time Out New York, and Anthropologie.
“Interning isn't always a walk in the park,” Kelsey said. “Even when you feel a little overwhelmed, take on every challenge with a smile and a ‘can do’ attitude – your supervisor(s) will love your optimism.”
Struggling to stay smiling during those long, unpaid hours? Salwa Muhammad, the Program Director of Internships at Wellesley College, suggests learning more about your workplace.
“It could be getting to know co-workers outside of work or getting to know what the impact of the work you’re doing is eventually – not just in the 9-5 realm, but . . . how it affects people, how it affects the field you’re in,” Muhammad said. “The more you can feel part of a bigger mission or even a cog in a wheel that has a larger effect, the more you’ll be able to see yourself there in a positive light.”
2. DO say yes to everything (within reason!)
None of us wants to end up like Hannah on this past season of Girls, biting off more than we can chew and winding up with crippling anxiety, a popped eardrum, and an atrocious self-haircut. Don’t run yourself into the ground by taking on too many projects, but when you find you have the time to take on an opportunity, go for it! As an intern, you’re there to learn and hone your skills, so take as many chances to do so as you can. Internship supervisors will love your go-getter attitude.
“When I started at my first internship at the News & Observer, I was given some ‘fluff’ assignments that the other reporters didn't want to do,” said Michelle Lewis, a senior at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. “I started off by covering an arts festival on a Saturday. The fact that I would do these assignments that nobody else wanted to do and [that] I was happy to do them made my editor trust me with bigger responsibilities later on. I went from writing about a festival to covering murders on my own in a few weeks!”
3. DO practice good email etiquette
Internship etiquette goes beyond normal business hours. Even if you’re on your computer at home, you want to maintain your status as the star intern.
The key is to be respectful of the other person’s tight schedule – in other words, don’t leave them hanging! “Answering emails promptly is very important, especially for an intern, because you’re there for a short time and you want to make that impression,” Muhammad confirmed.
If you’ve never had to write a professional email, you might be confused about how to begin. How formal do you have to be online? “If it’s somebody you’ve met, and if it’s okay to use their first name – which I think most internship situations would [allow] – then it’s definitely okay to start off that way,” said Muhammad. “[Otherwise], you want to address people with Mr. or Ms., and you can always switch later.”
Muhammad believes it’s best to finish with an email signature that’s all your own. WiseStamp helps you customize signatures, but Muhammad warns against using funky fonts, bright colors, or images. “It’s fine to be somewhat creative, but also be professional,” she said.
4. DON’T text or use social media
It should come as no surprise that, according to Muhammad, texting and surfing the web are ultimate no-nos while you’re on the clock. You may not be getting paid, but that doesn’t mean you can waste your time at the office. The last thing you want to do is give off the impression that you’re more interested in your roommate’s latest foodie Instagram than in your project for the day!
However, Muhammad acknowledges that cell phone use is becoming more and more acceptable in the office, largely due to the fact that email has become so efficient on mobile devices (for which we owe yet another thanks to our best friends: smartphones). Marketing and advertising agencies are especially open to cell phones, provided you use them professionally. “My advice is [during] the first week: try not using it,” Muhammad said. “See what other people are doing. And if not using it is actually creating a disadvantage for you because they’re viewing you as someone who’s not tech-savvy, then go back to it. But always use it with caution.”