Interning 101: The Road to Success

June 4, 2013

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A Journey of 1000 Miles Begins With a Single Step

Every summer, tens of thousands of interns make their way to DC to begin following the Yellow Brick Road (sometimes called K Street) of their young career paths. The ultimate destination is, of course, landing a job. The path can sometimes be windy and tricky and even a bit scary, especially if it’s your first time. But knowing how to navigate the road can make a good impression on any potential employer, in addition to making for a very rewarding and educational experience. Here’s some quick tips on how to be prepared for your new journey.

You’re Not In (insert state) Anymore

Let’s start with the basics. Dress appropriately. Or as Sue Rushkowski, director of human resources at a local DC radio station, says, “Dress not for where you are, but for where you want to be.” Better yet, find someone in the office that you want to be like, and then let them inspire you. Follow their lead in style and behavior. Mix your own style in as well. Don’t mimic or stalk, but do get inspired. After all, imitation is the best form of flattery.

Knowing the company’s culture is also very important. If your bosses and everyone else are dressed casually and say it’s cool for you to be as well, then go for it. But it’s always good to err on the side of overdressed than underdressed. Having last night’s “Stamp of Party Animal” still emblazoned on your hand for everyone to see is probably a bad idea.

What’s in a Name?

Quite a lot actually…so remember them. Patricia Rossi, a business etiquette expert, said “Learn everyone’s name, from the president to the security guard. Everyone loves to hear his or her name and it shows you’re engaged and interested.” People appreciate being memorable. We’re human. Imagine how it makes you feel when someone comes up and says hi and remembers your name. It makes you feel like a member of the team. It’s personal touches like this that can go a long way. And attention to details gives you the edge as someone is aware and present and considerate.

Look Like You Want It

Arrive early and leave late. Now, this could be a bit tricky simply because some companies have pretty strict rules about internship hours, but here’s something to keep in mind: showing up early and leaving late doesn’t just show commitment and discipline, it’s also the best time to talk to people and build relationships. Down time is when you can get to know folks and vice versa. It’s a great way to learn about openings at the company or anywhere else. Just remember your ABNs: always be networking.

You’re Not Blair Waldorfgossiping

Having a reputation as a gossip guy or girl can really dim your chances at landing a gig. It’s one thing to be in the know, but it’s another thing entirely to spread it. Avoid gossiping at all costs. If someone comes up to you and starts talking bad about a co-worker, it’s best to either change the subject (“Hey, where did you get those shoes?”) or have a little fun at your own expense (“You know, I have enough on my plate just worrying about me!”) Also, as recruiting consultant Lisa Orell, author of Millennials Incorporated says, “Don’t discuss religion, sexual orientation, or other private topics.” That’s kind of a no-brainer, but always a good thing to remember.

No Task Is (Necessarily) Too Small

Swallow your pride. If you’re asked to do menial tasks like photocopying, filing, or emptying the garbage, take it seriously. It speaks to your work ethic. If you do a bad job with menial assignments, who will trust you with the bigger ones? Now, that being said, there’s a fine line here. You want to be reliable and dependable but not taken advantage of. You want to ask questions, volunteer for tasks and be proactive, not seen as free labor. If you feel you’re being asked to do things that are inappropriate or outside of your normal duties, don’t be afraid to say something. The goal of an internship is to learn and to gain valuable work experience. Asking questions, being clear on duties, and standing up for yourself when appropriate are all part of that process.career path

Internships are often your first working experience in an office. So, as you run around doing your best to impress, and to gain insight into a future career, keep the above tips in mind, as they can help you ease on down the road from intern to full-time employee faster than you might expect. The first step on any path can set the tone for the journey.

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