Summer Internship Do's & Don'ts

If you’re just starting your first internship this summer, welcome to the world of unpaid (or virtually unpaid) labor. And if you’re onto your second or third, congratulations on surviving and welcome back!

Summer internships are a gamble: you could end up at what you thought was your dream job and hate it, or you could end up somewhere you thought would be ho-hum and find a new direction for your career path—not to mention the thousands of possibilities in between! Whichever circumstance you find yourself in, for at least the first few weeks, you’re guaranteed to feel a little bit like a chicken running around with your head cut off, and that’s okay. News flash! No intern, no matter how betchy or pulled together she may seem, knows what she’s doing.

This summer I landed my second unpaid internship at a magazine. And I may not know what the heck I’m doing, but I’m having a little fun doing it. So I thought I’d roundup a few do’s and don’ts to help you get a hang of whatever it is you’re pretending you know how to do this summer. And of course, I couldn't do this without a little help from everyone's favorite (former) interns: LC and Whit. 

1. As cliché as it sounds, do fake it ‘till you make it.

A wise friend recently sent me the following text:

“Yeah my boss just told me to write a review of gray literature and I was like ah, yes, gray literature and immediately did this” (see screenshot below)

Collegiettes, Google was created for a reason! It has (almost) all the answers to the questions that will make you feel and look like an idiot in front of your boss. And if Google doesn’t have the answer, turn to your group text or call your parents. I’m telling you, one of these three valuable sources will have an answer that will make you look like you’ve got your s*** together. Worse comes to worst, you can ask your boss for a “refresher” on how to do something to make it at least seem like you did know how to do it at some point.

2. Don’t let your co-workers catch you on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. The only exception here is if you’re doing it for work. You don’t want to look like a slacker. Which brings me to my next point…

3. No matter how awkward it is, or how much you don’t want to do it, do ask for something to do. I know how hard it is to wake up, commute, and jump right into doing something as boring as filing, or making copies, or whatever diminutive task your boss might ask you to do, but it’s better than your boss realizing that you’re sitting at your desk twiddling your thumbs. Sometimes you might feel like you’re creating more work for your boss just by asking for something to do, but asking for more responsibilities shows that you’re taking initiative. Better yet, if your boss hasn’t given you an assignment, come up with an idea and pitch it!

4. Don’t drink underage with your coworkers. This, hopefully, goes without saying.

In case you have to think twice about this, think about how bad it would look if your new intern friend posted a pic of you somewhere and your boss saw it. Or if your boss didn’t know you were underage and somehow got in trouble with HR.

5. Do jump through whatever hoops it takes to get college credit. At Davidson, we have to go through evaluations with our mentors at work, then write a paper and present to the Center for Teaching and Learning. It may seem like a lot just to get the registrar to put the word “internship” on your transcript, but whatever form of credit you get shows that you care enough to follow through with your work and make sure it ties into your education. Plus, sitting through an evaluation with your boss may not seem like the most fun summer activity, but it will help you learn what you are and aren’t doing well.

6. Don't hesitate to ask for feedback on any work you've done. One of the things I appreciated most about Davidson's intern program is that you are required to have your mentor at work observe your goals for the summer, then fill out mid-summer and end-of-summer evaluations. I took this as an opportunity to sit down with my boss and have conversations about how things were going. This got both of us to come out of our shells a bit to discuss what worked and what didn't, and if I could improve in any areas. I am always worried that I'm bothering people at work if I ask too many questions, but she encouraged me to really speak up and assert myself!

7. Definitely do ask for recommendations and references at the end of the summer. It shows a lot of maturity and professionalism to go to a boss or coworker and ask them in person, too! Just make sure you ask people with whom you've built strong professional relationships that will speak well of you. And you don't necessarily have to give them a specific employer or person to write to; general recommendations will help you down the road when you're applying for internships or jobs in the future.

8. Don't trash talk anyone at work to anyone at work. Make sure you're miles away before you go off about your office nemesis. Better yet, just avoid going off about anyone and take up yoga or something to boil off some steam. I'll keep this "don't" short and sweet and end by just echoing what your mothers have told you a thousand times: if you don't have something nice to say, don't say it at all.

9. Do try to come in early and stay (a bit) late. If your boss says you're done for the day, by all means, scoot out of the office and enjoy as much daylight as possible, but if you're working on something important, it wouldn't hurt to stay at work until you finish it. It's always important to hand your boss your best work, and sometimes that means missing a few minutes of girls' night. 

10. Lastly, don't be afraid to get to know your coworkers and be yourself. Whether you're spending one month or three with them, it's important not only to network professionally, but also to network personally and socially! Get to know everyone from the custodial team to the CEO, if you can. Be bold and knock on people's office doors or stop them in the hallway to introduce yourself. No matter what type of setting you're working in, everyone loves a happy, enthusiastic, young college intern. And if they like you as a person, they're more likely to ask you back or recommend you!

These ten little tips may not seem like a lot, but it's important to remember to use common sense. A little work will go a long way in terms of furthering your experience. Summer internships are about gaining learning experiences that will help you to better define your career goals. When you feel like you're going to fall asleep on a pile of Excel spreadsheets, remember, you get to put this on your résumé! Make the most of it! If you finish the summer thinking you'll never return to whatever job field your internship was in, at least you've ruled something out and you can continue to narrow down your interests. And you never know, a small idea you pitch to your boss could end up making your summer a whole lot more exciting!