Intern 101

Intern 101

I just had my first week at my summer job, and it was terrible. It seemed like nothing went right. My boss called in sick on my first day and handed off his welcoming duties to a less than welcoming individual, it took me hours of waiting, in a DMV-like environment, to get my corporate ID, and it seemed like every coworker I met had already decided that they didn’t like me.

Of course, week one of any internship can be challenging.  You have to deal with all of the paperwork and the details of becoming less of a liability for your organization. You have to play nice with all of the other interns, many of whom seem endlessly plagued with more ego than a heart surgeon. And finally, if you are lucky, HR has developed a super cheesy and slightly condescending presentation to teach you about company policies and regulations. However, despite the monotony and the overwhelming painfulness of the process, there are a few things you should keep in mind during week one.

1. First impressions matter and you will be making them all week long.  Wear business attire for the entire first week, even if the office allows a more relaxed business casual or has casual Fridays.  Oftentimes, during orientation and the first week, the head honchos like to “pop-in” and meet the summer class. You don’t want to be remembered as the person wearing Sperrys, a khaki skirt, and a polo.

2. Join the other interns for group activities during the first week, as long as the activities do not jeopardize your professionalism. It is good to get to know the people you will be spending ten or more weeks with during the summer. Within a few minutes of social interaction outside the workplace you can usually identify the ones to avoid. Additionally, you don’t want to be known as the “standoffish intern.” That would make you seem like you can’t or won’t play on a team, and no one wants to hire someone who isn’t a team player.

3. Don’t share too much information about yourself.  It is better to play things close to the vest for a few weeks. You don’t yet know how office politics work, what backgrounds people are coming from, or whom you can trust.  An offhanded remark on week one could sink your chances of returning fulltime, or, worst-case scenario, ruin your fledgling professional reputation.

4. Set boundaries. Sometimes men in offices adopt an attitude of overt paternalism when dealing with young female interns. They use pet names like “sweetheart or “honey,” and can be inappropriately physical.  It is important to set clear boundaries in week one. Correct individuals quickly, but politely, saying that your name is Hillary, not sweetheart, and be sure to tell individuals standing too close or “innocently” touching your shoulder that you would prefer not to be touched. If you giggle or laugh off these initial overtures, then they will nearly always escalate as the summer continues.  Do not allow yourself to be set up for that sort of problem from the start.

5. Don’t get discouraged. The work assigned in week one is usually busy work, and you’ll really get going as the summer progresses. Also, despite what I said above, you can overcome first impressions. Everyone is nervous week one, so if you have a terrible experience, much like mine, take the weekend to recoup and recover, and then come in week two with fire in your belly and a will to make your mark.

Guest Post: Cayce York

Photo Credit: Lily Monster

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