I’m something of an internship expert. I have quite a few under my belt, including interning at a boutique PR agency, a nonprofit organization and assisting a famous designer. So I can definitively say that each internship was worth my time, even during the rougher parts. Some internships were more laid back than others, but nevertheless, I approached each experience with the the same amount of professionalism and respect. If I was treated poorly by a boss or a coworker, I made sure not to get emotional on the job. There’s no need for that. You’re there to work and show your superiors why you deserve to be hired. I like to think of it as an audition.
I am now gainfully employed doing what I love but still reflect on my days as an intern, especially now that I am starting to manage interns. I was able to make mental notes of what to do, versus what not to do, by learning from my own mistakes and the mistakes of those interning with me.
As an intern, I was always the first one in the office and the last to leave. Upon arrival, I would unlock our office, turn the lights on and dive into the email abyss. No one ever had to reprimand me for being late or leaving too early. I was proud of my position and genuinely cared about carrying out my tasks properly. Some bosses will tell you that it’s not necessary to come in early, or stay as long as they stay. But at the end of the day, no boss ever dislikes when you put in the extra time.
I didn’t just adhere to deadlines, I made sure my work was in early. Always get it done beforehand, and follow specific rules, even if they’re a little over the top. If they specifically ask for Calibri font instead of Times New Roman, then use Calibri. It seems simple, but you’d be surprised at how many interns I’ve seen receive specific instructions and turn work in based on whatever they felt like. Do what you’re asked, not what you want.
Don’t revel in your free time. You finished an assignment way ahead of time? Ask for another. Take the initiative and show your boss how dedicated you are to your internship. Give them a front row seat to your incredible work ethic. If you have a few free minutes and you see that the office is a mess – then might I suggest cleaning it? Don’t wait for someone to bring it to your attention. I would never mandate that my interns clean up the place, but if someone did it without having to be asked, that’s something that I’d notice.
Take notes. Lots of them. There’s wealth in that knowledge and the more you know, the more your superiors will see how much you value your role. While I always encourage my interns to ask questions, it’s pretty satisfying (as an intern) if you already have the answer on your legal pad. You don’t want to ask your boss the same questions over and over because it gives the impression that you weren’t listening to begin with. And even if you weren’t, you can’t appear that way.
And while you’re taking notes, remember to stop gossiping and just focus. This is a no brainer, but somehow people still need a reminder that if you say something rude about your boss to a fellow intern, it can easily get back to your boss. Nothing stays quiet in an office setting. Your friend Susan might tell Erik in accounting. Or Elaine might overhear you as you tell Susan. And so on, and so forth. Gossiping is messy, unprofessional and could get you fired. Maintain a positive attitude, even if you complain endlessly at home.
As a way of showing your organizational skills (and to stay on top of things) keep a schedule, and schedule biweekly meetings with your boss to touch base. Ask questions about your progress, what you can improve on and use the opportunity to learn more about what the team does. Your boss will appreciate your dedication to improvement, as well as your interest in the company as a whole. You shouldn’t just want a job after your internship ends, you should want a job with that specific company. There’s a difference, and your superiors can pick up on it.
When your internship is coming to an end, be proactive about keeping in touch, and if you’re pursuing a job, say so. As an intern, you tend to go back and forth on whether or not it’s appropriate to bring up further employment. It is. In fact, your manager is expecting it. So do your homework on what roles the company might be looking for and tell your manager that you’re interested. Don’t do it offhandedly over lunch. Instead, schedule a sit down and be honest about why you want to stay on with them, and how you’ll add value to the team.
The worse they can say is no. And that’s how it is sometimes in the intern world. You might have three or four internships before a company decides to bring you on full-time. And if that’s the case, you’re allowed to be frustrated, but making those frustrations known will not get you a job. At the office, the best policy is to maintain a positive attitude, keep a smile on your face and complete each task the way you’d want an intern of yours to get it done.
Janette works in Fashion PR and currently splits her time between Dallas and New York. She is mother to Lexi the chihuahua, and lives life by a few good Kanye quotes to stay motivated. She is on Twitter and runs a blog.