You have landed the perfect summer internship. You rocked the interview, got selected above a ton of applicants, and you’re on top of the world and on the road to success.
Well, hopefully. Getting the position may seem like the hardest part (you spent hours perfecting your cover letter and résumé, and practiced interview answers in your mirror every night…needless to say, the job is well deserved), but you can’t stop there. You have to continually make a good impression on your superiors, especially the ones with the power to give you a good review or recommendation letter – because that means they have the power to dish you a bad one, too.
Straight from the Horse’s Mouth: What Employers Say You Should NEVER Do
Having a negative attitude is a major problem when you’re an intern. Your employers want to know that you care about the work you’re doing, are ready to learn, and are excited about interning for them. Dr. Randall Hansen, founder and president of Quintessential Career says to avoid:
- Being Rude
- Disrespecting Coworkers (Hint: A common mistake among interns is treating secretaries and clerks as being beneath them.)
- Being close-minded
- Appearing arrogant
- Appearing inflexible
These create concern for your boss when it comes to whether you can be a dependable employee, not to mention someone people want to be around. “There is nothing worse than having a toxic employee in an organization that has a bad attitude that affects his/her performance and that of others,” says Heather Geyer, assistant to the City Manager and Public Information Officer for the City of Wheat Ridge, Colo. So head to your internship every day with a positive attitude, and your superiors will remember your pleasant outlook when it comes time for them to give a recommendation.
Social media is great for keeping in touch with friends, but on your OWN TIME. Even if you’re not getting paid, don’t waste the company’s time and resources, and most importantly, don’t let yourself appear unprofessional.
“Unless your supervisor specifically tells you that Facebook, YouTube and personal calls are part of your job, disconnect during your work hours,” saysRich Brame, Alumni Relations Director for the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS).
You know what “proper attire” is in a professional setting: so don’t bypass your black dress skirt for Daisy Dukes. If you aren’t sure how casual you can dress, ask your employer about the company’s dress code. After a few days on the job, you should be able to pick up on what’s acceptable from those around you.
Take the setting into consideration: Fashion-related internship? Don’t show up in sweats.
“Conform and leave your 17-year-old wardrobe behind if you're not 17. Remember, ‘underwear’ is supposed to be worn under your clothes, not poking out,” says Brame.
For more internship wardrobe advice, and a list of what to avoid, check out this article.
Not giving into the temptation of gossip will be hard for any girl, especially when you want to bond with your new female coworkers. After all, women of every age connect with each other by analyzing other people’s drama. This can create problems, though, so be cautious.
While having relationships with your colleagues is important, you shouldn’t run the risk of offending any of them either, especially if it’s a superior. Avoid burning any bridges with anyone you work with by not spreading rumors and not believing everything you hear.
Keep chitchat short so that you use your time wisely. An employer will not appreciate finding you having a casual conversation when you should be devoting your time to more vital tasks. “You never wanted to be associated with the idea that you are someone who has too much time on their hands and would rather waste company time than be productive,” saysBrame.
When faced with workplace gossip, ask yourself if you would want your coworkers to talk about you. If not, let the gossip end with you – rumors only survive as long as people continue to spread them. If you get dragged into a gossip session, try changing the subject as soon as possible. Lead by example and show your coworkers that negative gossip creates a bad work environment for everyone.
Come Unprepared or Unwilling to Learn
An internship is meant to be a learning process, says Randall Hansen. “While the employer expects to get a certain level of work from you, you are not expected to know everything,” he says. “Don’t be afraid to ask questions.”
In every job there are resources to further your knowledge about the industry you are working for. “Take every opportunity presented to you to attend company or industry meetings, conferences, and events; participate in training workshops; and read all company materials,” says Hansen. Even boring meetings offer noteworthy information and a chance to network with people in the field.
Going to your internship unprepared makes just as bad of an impression as not caring about the internship at all. “Never go to a meeting without your calendar and something with which to take notes,” says Brame. “You won't be included in meetings if your presence isn't needed.”
You should know what your employer expects out of you after the first few days of your internship. Make sure to bring any necessary supplies or dress appropriately for the tasks you are dealt. Don’t be frequently late or leave early – this leaves an impression that the internship is not important to you.
Learn From Their Mistakes: Intern Disasters
Employers and former interns reveal the worst intern incidents they’ve come across.
Revealing Company Secrets
Don’t do it.
This might seem obvious to anyone who’s ever had to sign some kind of confidentiality form (most of us), but just in case some people missed the memo, keep private information private.
“I interned at a Philadelphia magazine last semester, and in the really wry intern guide they gave us, there was a story about some dumbo who called up a restaurant to fact check something and said something along the lines of ‘congratulations - you won Best of Philly!’ when everyone (except said intern) knows that Best of Philly is totally top-secret until publication,” says Katie Sanders, University of Pennsylvania 2012 and a Her Campus Contributing Writer.
LOL @ This: How 2 B Like Unprofessional
While text abbreviations are fine for your friends, you should let your employers and coworkers know that you can, in fact, spell words like “you” and “with;” you know that “2” is a number and is spelled “two” (and not used interchangeably with “to” and “too”), and that LOL, OMG, and IDK are not real words – or for use in spoken language.
“I ended up working during the school year at the same place I'd interned over the summer, so I saw two interns come in after me,” says Jocelyn Baird, a Syracuse University alumna. “Much of what we did as assistants/interns involved emailing - between clients and staff within the company - and all of those emails went into the file for whichever client they pertained to. I noticed several times during filing that both girls would use ‘text’ speak in their emails to office staff. Thankfully, I don't think either of them ever emailed clients using anything but formal English, but it really sets off a bad impression when you send your BOSS an email with abbreviations like ‘ur’ and ‘2.’ You want to always be on top of your game and impress; even if it's ‘just’ an email to a coworker, you should use proper English and grammar.”
Rich Brame lets Her Campus know how to realize when your vocabulary is not appropriate for the professional world:
- Describe a recent frustrating scenario from work or school. If you can’t describe that situation without expletives or the word “like,” it’s time to upgrade your vocabulary.
- Never IM, email, or speak in a way that wouldn’t go over perfectly at your grandmother’s Thanksgiving dinner.
Pet-Friendly Workplaces – They’re Rare
“Several years ago, I had an intern working for me who kept a couple of snakes and a very large white rat,” says Michael Fisher, an area livestock extension agent. “She became aware of my opinion of rats and decided that it would be fun to bring it in to the office and drop it on my shoulder. I am a pretty good-natured person, but my secretary was not nearly as polite when the intern unwisely pulled the stunt with her. It could have been a very poor choice career-wise and was almost hazardous to the rat's health. This past summer, I was contacted as a reference because she was changing careers. The interviewer asked me if I ever had any unprofessional experiences from this former intern. Immediately the rat incident popped to mind. That is not exactly the kind of story most prospective employers are going to want to hear.”
Down in the Dumps…or Pond
While no one wants to fall into a dirty pond, the experience shouldn’t ruin your entire internship experience. That is just what happened to an intern of Rutgers doctoral candidate Jeremy Feinberg, however. After taking an accidental, and highly unfortunate, dive into a pond while out in the field for the internship, the intern became distant, uncommunicative, and miserable. His parents even called Feinberg’s bosses to complain about the incident. This was ridiculous, he said, because a 19-year-old should be able to talk to his boss about problems he’s experiencing without getting his parents involved. At the end of the internship, the intern took off without ceremony and couldn’t even be bothered to get his last paycheck.
Jeremy Feinberg, Doctoral Candidate Rutgers University
Katie Sanders, University of Pennsylvania 2012 and a Her Campus Contributing Writer
Jocelyn Baird, Syracuse University graduate
Heather Geyer, Assistant to the City Manager/Public Information Officer, City of Wheat Ridge, Colorado
Dr. Randall S. Hansen, Founder and President, Quintessential Careers
“Making the Most of Your Internship(s)” by Dr. Randall S. Hansen
Rich Brame, NOLS Alumni Relations Director
Michael J. Fisher, Area Livestock Extension Agent