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10+ Tips for A Successful Summer Job/Internship

The start date for many summer internships and jobs is quickly approaching. This article is full of practical and helpful tips for the entire summer. The first day of a new job is always the hardest, but coming prepared is a great way to squash any potential fears. Prior to starting my internship last summer, I asked my mom (who is an in-house attorney at a large healthcare system) and her colleagues (administrators) for some tips. In addition, I accumulated a list of observations and lessons during my internship that I have combined into the Top 10+ for your benefit.

1. Arrive on time every single morning (no excuses). 

Punctuality makes a great first impression. Your boss may have set a specific time for you to arrive, to assure that the building is open, and that the correct people are in the office to orient you. Build in extra time in your commute so you are early rather than late.  

Continuing this trend throughout the summer is important. Arriving on time shows that you are accountable and can be trusted with more responsibility. Try your best to be on time every day, even if this means leaving a little early some mornings to battle traffic, weather, or construction. Set two alarms if you need to, and never use the excuse “my alarm didn’t go off”! If you do happen to come in late, don’t try to cover it up with lame excuses. Exaggerating diminishes your credibility. Simply apologize, and tell your boss it won’t happen again.

2. Remember that you establish your brand during the first few weeks.

The first week at a new job or internship is crucial, as this is when you establish “your brand”. Like food and fine beverages, we all have a brand—your reputation. Think about what you want your work reputation to be. That’s your brand. If you make it clear during the first week that you are willing to work hard, can produce quality work, are responsible, use common sense, and are generally a squared-up individual, your coworkers will brand you positively. Thus, they may be more likely to cut you a break later in the summer if you make a mistake. The opposite is also true, and it’s very hard to drastically improve your brand. If you come across as problematic (read: “unreliable”) your first couple of weeks, then it’s doubly difficult to overcome that negative branding later. Coming in on time, being polite to coworkers, and volunteering to take projects are great ways to establish a positive brand.

The first few weeks are also the time to dress conservatively (minimal cleavage and longer skirts—to at least the mid-thigh) to show coworkers that you understand professionalism and are at work to work. More branding. You can assess the dress code (if your employer doesn’t have a written policy) in the first few weeks. Make adjustments as you go, but always start conservatively. If you’re going to be walking more than a few blocks, don’t wear spikes. Your feet will kill you and you’ll never keep up.

3. Don’t be afraid to take a dog project.

A common theme that I heard many times while preparing for my internship was that employers often save crappy projects for the summer intern. These are often difficult or time-intensive projects that full-time employees don’t have the time to do, or simply consider the work to be beneath them. Volunteer to take this crappy project out of the gate. It is a win-win for you. If you complete the project, you’re a star, and if you don’t complete it, that’s okay because everyone knew it was a crappy and/or difficult project. Your employer will still respect you for trying.

4. Don’t be afraid to jump in and ask for work.

This tip is directly related to the tip above. A successful manager who hires interns told me that she often greets her interns on the first day, and then leaves them alone in their office until they come to her to ask for a project. She wants to see how long it takes them to jump into work. Impress your boss and jump right in after you get acclimated at your desk and have completed the necessary paperwork to start as an employee. It’s perfectly acceptable, and even advisable, to walk down to your boss’ office with a notebook and pencil to ask what you can do. They will likely start you off with an easier “intro project”, and will be thrilled that you are excited to work. Exhibiting a little enthusiasm while asking for work and getting started on a project will go a long way as well.

5. Always bring a notepad and pen to your boss’ office.

What your boss has to say is important. It’s bad form to arrive without notetaking materials, then have to ask your boss to repeat instructions later. Never take notes on your cell phone. That looks like you’re texting. Your boss will also be pleased if you’re actively taking notes, as they are taking time out of their day to meet with you, and clearly feel what they have to say is important. This is a great time to ask the who, what, when, where, how and why of any project you are being assigned, and write it down so you can reference it later. These translate into questions such as: Who is this project for? Who can I ask questions if I need help? What type of end product do you want? When do you want it? How would you like me to do this project (i.e., Excel spreadsheet or a memo?). 

Once you dive into your project, if you are confused and floundering for more than 5-6 hours, you should check back with your boss to see if you are on the right track or need help.

6. Don’t complain about your office, surroundings, or supplies.

You are an intern. You probably won’t get the best desk chair or ideal office space, but it’s your job to make it work for the summer. If, for some reason, your office location is detrimental to your health, or you absolutely cannot find any office supplies, then ask your boss, but try not to complain or tell others how awful your office and supplies are. Complaining will just come off as immature and whiney, and will not impress your boss.

7. Eat in the breakroom with all of the other employees.

You might feel silly about bringing your lunch and asking where the fridge is. You might feel insecure or intimidated when you take a break in the lunchroom and have to figure out where to sit—and with whom. However, I encourage you to do both. It’s okay to sit down at an empty table on that first day. Other interns or friendly coworkers will most likely join you and strike up a conversation. Eating at the firm also opens the door for conversations with important employees. I was able to have lunch with the owner and CEO of the firm on several occasions where I interned at last summer, because I ate lunch in the break room, and he usually did, too. This was a unique opportunity for casual face-time with a very important person whom I otherwise wouldn’t have been chumming around with. I asked a few questions and he told me about himself and the firm in terms that I know he wouldn’t have during a formal meeting. Lunch in the breakroom is also a great time to foster relationships with coworkers that can later turn into letters of recommendation or a potential job offer. Your boss is much more likely to hire you at the end of the summer if you are friendly and well liked. Sometimes, an employer’s hiring analysis—when presented with many well-qualified candidates—comes down to finding the person who “fit in well” during the summer.

8. Take advantage of informational interviews.

Internships are a great time to set up meetings with other department leaders at the firm to ask them about their jobs and how they arrived at the firm. As an intern, you will probably have a couple free hours each week, and a productive way to use this is to schedule one-on-one meetings with managers. Managers like to talk about themselves, and are more than happy to sit down in an office, or go out for a cup of coffee, to talk about their education, training and experiences—all for your benefit. If you do request a coffee interview, always offer to pay and express your gratitude for the meeting. A hand-written thank you later is a great way to thank this person for their time.

9. Keep a list of potential improvements for the firm.

You can really impress your boss at the end of the summer by giving him or her a SWOT analysis or list of improvements you observed while working there. Bring a fresh and creative set of eyes to each project so you can add some value at the end of your internship. Some improvements include: making multi-step processes more efficient, updating an outdated software program, or thinking about how people can cross-train for key roles. If you do identify a problem, your boss will want solutions, so offer a few. Of course, if the problem is urgent or pressing, don’t wait until the end of the summer to tell them about it. Brainstorming with, or giving your boss a memo, toward the end of the summer will demonstrate that you are willing to take the time to go above and beyond to improve your workplace.

10. Have a(n appropriate) sense of humor.

Offices are a great place for professional, clean jokes and some occasional pranks or parties. Make sure to feel out the culture of your firm before jumping in with any jokes or pranks, however. Having a sense of humor will help you to make this summer job or internship the best one yet.

11. Bonus Tip – Act responsibly at the company outing or party (but still enjoy yourself!)

Many employers will schedule a summer picnic or outing (i.e., baseball game) during your summer internship. The full-time employees might view this as an opportunity to drink alcoholic beverages and let loose a little. In fact, your immediate boss might imbibe to the point of becoming tipsy. This does not mean, however, that you should get drunk with them. Sure, have a drink or two, but check yourself. You’re just the intern, and you are still creating your brand. They don’t expect you to get drunk. Be responsible so you get good references, and maybe even a job offer. And, never, ever flirt with your boss (or your boss’ spouse) at these social gatherings. Ever. That’s just asking for trouble.

Hopefully these tips will help to build your confidence and improve your professional skills. Wherever you're working this summer, you will be great. Stay positive, dedicated, and passionate and you will be just fine.

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