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10 Things To Do Before You Start Your Internship

Your first day at a new internship is essentially your first day at kindergarten: part two. While you’re probably not pumping yourself up with a brand new Barbie lunchbox and hot-pink jelly sandals this time, you still have some slightly more professional prep work to do before your first day. So before you strap on your pair of pumps for the first day at the office, here are the top 10 things every intern needs to do ahead of time.  

1. Familiarize yourself with the company
Consider this your homework assignment for your first day. Understanding the company’s mission and office hierarchy are crucial aspects of any job, and they will make your life SO much easier (promise!). Heather Huhman, founder and president of Come Recommended, a content marketing consultancy for career-focused organizations, recommends, “Be familiar with the company before you begin your internship. It is important to confirm to whom and where you are reporting.” Plus, showing that you understand the fundamental values of the company before your internship even starts will show special dedication to becoming a cohesive part of the office from the get-go.

If you haven’t already done so, now’s a great time to peruse the company’s website. Pay special attention to the “about us” section and the company’s mission statement (if you can find it), as these reflect the company at its core. Also, you’ll definitely want to stay current on the latest happenings within the company. An easy way to do this is to sign up for Google Alerts using the name of the company you are interning for and any corporate heads as your keywords. That way, anytime a story breaks with any of the keywords you chose, Google will automatically email you the articles! Can it get any easier than that?

2. Practice your commute
Arriving late, in general, is bad. Arriving late on the first day is awful and sets a sloppy tone for the rest of your internship. Huhman says, “Take a test drive to the office. Knowing where you are going will only help you be on time—or even early—when coming in on your first day.” Especially if you’re planning on using public transportation to commute, make sure you double check the bus/train/subway schedules and practice walking from your stop to your office. Although starting your day with a power run can be quite invigorating…it loses a little something in a dress and heels. However, on the off chance that you arrive late, you can learn how to avert this crisis here.

3. Become proficient in Microsoft Office Suite
Sure, we all learned how to type Word documents in second grade computer class, and (call it a hunch) you probably wouldn’t be in college if you weren’t computer literate. But it’s never a bad idea to refresh your memory on how major computer programs run. While you’re probably a pro at making every emoticon possible on Facebook chat, (sadly) that won’t come in handy at the office. Especially if your internship involves a lot of typing or mathematical formulas, becoming familiar with Word and Excel shortcuts can save you a lot of time and frustration. A not-so-tech-savvy collegiette™ remembers, “At my first internship I had to ask a million questions everyday on how to format things in Excel…It was kind of embarrassing.” For even the most technologically challenged collegiettes  out there, you can master the art of the spreadsheet on this website. After you’ve mastered Excel, check out the computer programs that every collegiette should learn here. Also, if you’re usually a Mac user, you should take time before you start your internship to familiarize yourself with how a PC works (and vice versa) by playing around on a friend’s laptop.

4. Know the office dress code
When you work at Target, it’s the khaki pants and red shirt ensemble. At McDonalds, you have to rock the golden arches hat and polo. Case in point: every job has its own unique dress code. Huhman says, “It is important to have appropriate outfits available for your new internship. Make sure you understand the dress code and if need be, go shopping beforehand.” Knowing what is appropriate to wear to work is crucial to your success at your internship. If you start your first day in the fashion industry in a Hilary Clinton-esque power suit, you probably won’t be known for your cutting edge style around the office. Not sure what the dress code is? Don’t be afraid to e-mail your supervisor ahead of time and ask!

5. Read the newspaper
While I’m not suggesting that you read the entire newspaper cover to cover (seriously, you can skip through the ads and cartoons), it’s important to be current on world events. If your co-workers are discussing the U.S. economic crisis and you interject with “OMG Obama’s the president now?”—you won’t be doing yourself any favors. No matter the industry you are interning in, knowing the names of key players in our government and staying up-to-date on major world events is imperative. If you don’t have time to physically sit down and read the newspaper, try setting your homepage to a news website aimed at your line of work. Business interns should consider reading Businessweek or The Wall Street Journal, advertising interns can focus on AdAge, and government interns should pay attention to CNN, etc. Make checking the latest industry news a priority before you leave for work every morning. That way, you’ll always sound professional and informed when chatting around the water cooler with your coworkers.
6. Start speaking the lingo
If you begin your advertising internship by telling your boss that you’re “super excited to work on those things for those people who pay us,” you’ll go from the perfect intern to incredibly unqualified in seconds. Make sure you understand the lingo of the field you’re interning in. As an advertising intern, you’ll want to express your enthusiasm for working on the campaigns for the company’s accounts. Chances are, you’ve already taken a few classes in the field you’ll be interning in. If you’ve managed to hang onto your old textbooks (and resisted the urge to trade them in for cash to finance your Sephora shopping spree), the glossary in the back of the book can be a Godsend. But if you (like most) have a better shot at finding a unicorn than your old textbooks, BusinessDictionary.com has a “browse by subject” search tool that allows you to scroll through hundreds of field-specific jargon that will have you talking the talk in no time.

On a similar note, DEFINITELY clean up your everyday vocabulary. If you’re like in the like completely horrible habit of like talking like a Valley Girl and using phrases like LOL in like everyday conversation (isn’t that annoying?!), it is a surefire way to not be taken seriously by anyone…ever. If you sound like you just popped out of Clueless, try to practice limiting the number of times you use filler phrases such as “like” and “umm” when speaking—you’ll sound more professional in minutes!

7. Learn office etiquette
Going from a college classroom to a real world office setting will definitely require a bit more etiquette than you’re used to. While you can freely text your friends all through philosophy class and take your usual midday Cheetos® break during your finance lecture, it’s these seemingly unnoticeable behaviors that will drive your supervisor off the deep end if continued in the workplace. On a similar note, watching somebody sitting at a meeting veraciously chomping on a piece of gum is one the most unattractive, impolite behaviors in the entire world. If you just snarfed down a garlic-packed Lean Cuisine in the break room and need a breath freshener ASAP, either brush your teeth in the bathroom or pop a Tic Tac before returning to your desk. Do not chew gum at work. Additionally, while it might be proper dining commons manners to not use utensils at dinner (let’s face it, chicken fingers and fries are best eaten with your hands anyway), make understanding business meal etiquette a priority. For tips on how to behave like a refined collegiette™ at your internship, the Emily Post Institute, one of the most renowned names in etiquette, is here to help.

8. Paperwork, paperwork, paperwork
Huhman says, “Once you arrive at the office, be prepared to fill out paperwork. Bring all necessary documents and check with your internship contact before to see if you need to bring any specific papers.” If you haven’t already memorized it, you should definitely have your social security number with you (trust me, taking your best guess on that is NOT a good move). Additionally, it’s a good idea to have your driver’s license and any paperwork that you need to have verified for your college.

9. Bring a notebook
Chances are, your first day will be nothing but co-worker after co-worker explaining the ins and outs of your workplace. Huhman stresses that “on your first day as you’ll probably be inundated with information and names—you don’t want to forget anything important!” While it’s tempting to make mental notes, after the fourth mental sticky-note, you’ve probably already forgotten the first thing you needed to remember. Make sure to come prepared with a professional notebook (i.e., kittens in cookie jars, Hannah Montana and any obscene phrases need not apply). That way, you can write and organize everything you need to know in one simple place.

10. Get pumped up!
Above all GET EXCITED! Remember that YOU earned this by working hard and excelling in the area that you’re interning in. Offering you the internship was the company’s way of saying that they believe in you. Huhman reminds collegiettes, “Beyond your dress, it is important to have an upbeat attitude for the internship.” The best way to do this is to smile and remain friendly and approachable throughout the day. As one collegiette  offers, “A smile is your best accessory! (Cheesy, but true!).”

Heather Huhman, founder and president of Come Recommended
Anonymous collegiettes  

Emily Grier is currently a sophomore at Penn State University. She loves all things Nittany Lions, however she readily admits to being a complete Connecticut girl at heart. There's nothing she enjoys more than autumn in New England, holiday lattes from Starbucks, "Gilmore Girls", and strawberry cupcakes from Crumbs bakeshop. Although she's intending on majoring in accounting with a minor in business law, writing remains a true passion of hers. In addition to writing for Her Campus, Emily has been published on the USA TODAY College Blog and is a staff writer for Valley magazine, Penn State's life and style magazine.  
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