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7 Golden Rules of Internship Etiquette

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 collegiette from 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 a 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, an alum of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and HC’s Senior Editor. “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.”

5. DON’T turn work time into social hour

As much as we would like to be employed simply to make friends, sadly, this isn’t the case. While it’s always nice to be tight with your fellow interns and even your higher-ups, your main focus should be your work. Otherwise, you’ll send the message that you aren’t taking your job seriously.

After interning at Glamour, Katrina Laivins, a collegiette from the University of Connecticut, realized that as an intern, “you should not be wasting your time gossiping [or] socializing with other interns. There is plenty of time after work or on the weekends when you can hang out with your intern friends and get to know them.”

Muhammad suggests taking advantage of coffee breaks and lunch breaks, happy hours, and any other social gatherings outside of the office to chitchat with your officemates. “Even though [coffee breaks] [only take] five minutes or less, it’s great bonding time,” she noted.

6. DO be friendly to co-workers

Why is that bonding time over mochaccinos so important? According to Muhammad, “Internships are great networking opportunities. Not only are you learning from the work you’re doing or the organization you’re in, but you’re [also] networking with the people, you’re working with their networks.” Nobody wants to network with someone whom they can’t stand to be around!

Networking aside, friendliness is often the best way to get things done. Need help with a project? Trying to agree on how to tackle a team task? Asking nicely is the best way to convince someone to cooperate with you, and people are usually willing to go above and beyond for co-workers whom they actually like.

7. DO give off the right body language

Props to you for perfecting your “I’m-thrilled-to-be-here” smile, but flashing your pearly whites is only half of the battle. Don’t forget to let the rest of your body do the talking, too!

First things first: the handshake. Keep it firm and confident! “If you’re nervous about shaking hands, simply offer your hand first,” advised Rachel Wendte, a recent grad of Butler University. “It’s a confident way to introduce yourself, and most people will follow suit without any weirdness. It’s also just plain polite.”

The handshake needs to be accompanied by more than that mega-watt smile; you also need to make eye contact. Julia Kennedy, a student at the University of Portland, said that eye contact went a long way during her internship at Portland Timbers. “Making pointed eye contact, especially at the beginning, end, and important parts of a conversation, helps people think that they can trust you, lets them [know] that you’re paying attention to them, and that you care about what they’re saying.”


While internship etiquette isn’t everything – you have to actually do your work, too! – it makes people take notice and appreciate your presence in the workplace, laying the groundwork for you to put your true talents on display. Follow these seven golden rules and you’ll be well on your way to internship stardom by the end of week one!

Kate is the Associate Editor of Her Campus. Before joining the staff full-time, Kate was the Campus Correspondent for the HC Skidmore College chapter as well as an editorial intern, Love editor, and national contributing writer for HC. In addition to her work with Her Campus, Kate has been a Sex & Love stringer and digital editorial intern for WomensHealthMag.com and an Inner Circle Trendspotter for MTV. Kate graduated from Skidmore College summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa with a Bachelor of Arts in English and French. In her spare time, Kate is usually spotted writing fiction, playing tennis, reading pop culture blogs until her eyes hurt, baking cookies, or dreaming up her next travel adventure.
As the Senior Designer, Kelsey is responsible for the conceptualization and design of solutions that support and strengthen Her Campus on all levels. While managing junior designers, Kelsey manages and oversees the creative needs of Her Campus’s 260+ chapters nationwide and abroad. Passionate about campaign ideation and finding innovative design solutions for brands, Kelsey works closely with the client services team to develop integrated marketing and native advertising campaigns for Her Campus clients such as Macy’s, UGG, Merck, Amtrak, Intel, TRESemmé and more. A 2012 college graduate, Kelsey passionately pursued English Literature, Creative Writing and Studio Art at Skidmore College. Born in and native to Massachusetts, Kelsey supplements creative jewelry design and metal smithing with a passion for fitness and Boston Bruins hockey. Follow her on Twitter: @kelsey_thornFollow her on Instagram: @kelsey_thorn