Read This Before Your First Internship: The Do’s and Don’ts

After finishing up summer 2018, I smiled at my campers one last time and waved goodbye to a chapter in my life. I had grown up going to the same day camp my entire childhood. The directors, specialists, and senior counselors had known me since I was a loud 5-year-old girl with two pigtails in my hair. I felt growing pains from leaving my childhood home, but forced myself to deal with the scary thought of “What do I want to do with my life?” I was drawn to an internship in New York City, not just as a journey into my career path but personal development. Going through the whole research, application, and interview process without any help, I knew I had to hold myself to a high standard wherever I ended up. 

 

Whether your parents were nagging you about getting a real-world job or you were sick of the same old routine and monotonous tasks of a hometown job, congratulations on your internship! You’re past the biggest hurdle and now you just need to keep the momentum going. Here are some do’s and dont’s I wish I knew beforehand:

 

DO: Go with your gut and reflect.

Check-in with yourself daily or weekly to make sure you know where your head’s at. It’s easy to mindlessly zoom through tasks and not take a step to breathe and think about how you feel. During your first internship, those minutes of personal reflection are incredibly important for future reference.  Be like Marie Kondo and constantly question an assignment “does it spark joy?” Whether yes or no, write it down. You’re lucky enough to get a head-start in navigating what work environment is best for you, so ask yourself: 

  • Do you feel “at home” in your workplace?

  • Are you more intrinsically or extrinsically motivated? 

  • Does the work feel meaningful to you?

  • Do you like your boss/co-workers?

  • Do you want to collaborate or prefer working independently?

 

DON’T: Have your mind stuck on one career path.

I went into my internship with the mindset of gaining marketing experience but sticking with a sociology and government major. After talking to co-workers with majors ranging from art history to international affairs and English, I finally understood the phrase “you are not your major”. You aren’t defined by the college classes you take, it’s all a matter of the skills, foundational knowledge, and interests you gain from them. Don’t worry about how a potential employer might view one course that doesn’t necessarily fit the job description, it’s all a matter of how you frame the experience! Be flexible with your “elevator pitch” so you can make it work no matter the work atmosphere.

 

DO: Know the field, and if you don’t know it well enough, look for learning opportunities.

Try your best to study the company’s website to educate yourself on different terms and platforms relevant to the field, clients, and employees. You might not know what to expect walking into your first day but this background research will help relieve some anxiety and show your co-workers how proactive you are. As someone who is not at all familiar with Photoshop and Adobe surrounded by co-workers with extensive art and design backgrounds, I definitely felt underqualified at times. But whenever I was given the opportunity to try out whatever I wanted, I would ask my supervisor for a tutorial on a new tool and continue to practice until I felt comfortable. When it comes to dress code, check out your workplace’s social media accounts or search YouTube videos to figure out the formality of your industry’s workplace attire. A flattering and put-together professional outfit is your first chance to show off who you are and can help you feel more confident about the work you’re doing! 

 

DON’T: Slack. But also don’t burn yourself out.

After securing an internship, some people think you can just lay back and let the work do itself. No matter how big or small the company, you need to remind yourself to stay on top of your game regardless of your tasks for the day. You may just be dealing with something as simple as catching coffee or entering information into a database, but your small errands go a long way. It may seem like your work goes unnoticed, but trust me when I say that there is always someone paying attention and their opinion of you could go a long way for a future recommendation!

 

DO: Be curious. Ask for help. Go above and beyond.

You should make the most of your experience and time by asking any questions while you have the chance. In a more competitive environment, you might be hesitant to make mistakes but finding a mentor to let you slip up, yet guide you through difficult projects, will provide you with countless lessons and insider tips to working smarter and not harder. Don’t take it personally when you get tough feedback for your work, take it as a stepping stone toward becoming an expert. There’s no textbook for workplace expectations so the best way to get good at something is asking your supervisor how you can improve! And even when one task is a breeze, going beyond expectations and planning ahead for future deadlines before being told will make you stand out from the rest.

 

DON’T: Put your eggs all in one basket.

There are sure to be some days where nearly every manager asks you for your help on a project and it seems like you can’t get a break. Remember you don’t have to say ‘yes’ to everything! As cheesy as it sounds, you have to keep in mind you can do anything but not everything. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, take a step back and delegate/organize your tasks based on urgency and significance. You want to be able to give your 100% to every assignment, so if you’re not feeling your best, take a quick walk or a mental health day in order to come back to the office with a refreshed state of mind.

 

DO: Become friends with co-workers and other interns!

Networking is KEY, especially if this is your first job in a real-world setting. Avoid making mere surface-level connections, and instead, ask another intern out to lunch! You might discover you have the same weird obsession with Mindhunter or have the same mutual friend from college. Keep it professional with coworkers but don’t be afraid to open up and show your quirky side to create a stronger bond outside of the work realm. The more outside interests you have in common, the more likely they will think of you first when an opportunity arises in the future. Plus, you can keep in touch to have a coffee date to catch up and get career advice down the road!

 

Internships can be a daunting experience, but try not to take yourself too seriously! You don't have to fully adult just yet! Yes, you should be fully present at work and find useful tasks for yourself before you’re assigned one. Yes, you should show up on time and always ask “what else can I do?” But also reach out to friends in the area and treat yourself to some good eats after a long 9-5 day. As much as you should go above and beyond, once you’re logged off for the day, truly log off. Enjoy your free time with some self-care and let the stresses of the day go. You got this girl!