25 Things to Master Before Your First Internship

first internshipThe “teaching-to-the-test” strategy of our school systems (where blue ribbons for eighth place and “My Daughter is an Honor Student” bumper stickers are the norm) and the “performing-for-the-grade” strategy at college is failing our students.

At a time when they should, in some form, be laying the foundation for their future work-life, our younger generation is rarely, if ever, engaged in learning career success strategies and tactics.

So… it’s time for the Old-Timers to stop the Millennial-inspired eye rolls, groans, and guffaws – and offer up a teaching moment about work. More specifically, the behavioral and cognitive expectations about work – and while at work.

In the spirit of Jenny Fukumoto’s great post on 25 Things We Must Know Before 25, I offer this list of “25 Things to Master Before Your First Internship”…

  1. Business writing | Write 3 paragraphs about one of your career aspirations without starting any sentence with “I”.
  2. Branding targets | By brand and company name, identify three to five companies that offer products or services in your area of career interest.
  3. Doing versus achieving | Know the difference between a task and an accomplishment.
  4. Privacy rule | Keep in mind that NOTHING you do under the guise of “privacy” in social media is completely private – bad or questionable online behavior will follow you forever. Only YOU can embarrass yourself.
  5. Speak clearly and concisely | Be able to speak with someone you don’t know for 15 to 30 minutes without saying “like”, “um”, “ya know”, or “uh”.
  6. Learn to walk away | Be able to confidently say, “Thank you but while I appreciate the offer, at this point in time I’ll have to respectfully decline.”
  7. Networking 101 | Possess – and know where they are – at least 10 25 business cards from mentors, influencers, and friends of your parents (and know what they and their companies do).
  8. Shake | With confidence and poise, be able to offer a business-like handshake. No “fishshakes”. And look the person in the eye.
  9. Timeliness | Demonstrate getting to work on time (you can sleep in on the weekends). In business you can’t opt out of 8 AM classes.
  10. Collaborate | Texting while sitting next to your friends isn’t “collaboration”.
  11. Earning the wages | Know that for every on-the-clock minute you’re Facebooking while at work for personal reasons, you’re cheating your employer out of a minute of paid productivity.
  12. Tidiness | Use a company bathroom and not leave it looking like your bathroom at home. Guys – that means picking up the seat.
  13. Organize | Have a system for organizing your desk; your office should not look like your bedroom at home. Out of site almost always means you’ll forget about it. See “Exceed Deadlines” below.
  14. Research | Be adept at researching a critical business topic without relying on Wikipedia.
  15. Childishness | Contribute to a business discussion without twirling your hair or puffing up your chest.
  16. Unplug for yourself | Know when to completely unplug and think without crowdsourcing. Yes, shut off and put down the smartphone/security blanket.
  17. Dress professionally | Appreciate what “appropriate attire” means – and dress accordingly. Apply the Nana Test…
  18. Business circles | Grasp that not everyone at work is your friend; share and act accordingly. Refer back to the “Privacy rule” above if confused.
  19. Rank has its privileges (RHIP) | Even in the flattest of organizations, a company is not a group of equals. Sing the Aretha Franklin song, “R-E-S-P-E-C-T” if it helps you understand this.
  20. Be truthful | If you lie to your parents, it’s highly likely they’ll still love you; your boss won’t.
  21. Exceed deadlines | Cramming for exams is much different than consistently meeting work deadlines.
  22. Meet Commitments | A 1:00 PM meeting begins at 1:00 PM; coming in at 1:15 or not showing up at all without letting the organizers know ahead of time is not okay.
  23. Gatekeepers rule | An Administrative Assistant is not someone to be trifled with; all Assistants have direct pathways to the management. You would be surprised how many managers consult their assistants around performance review time.
  24. Impeccable meals | Eat a meal and discuss business at the same time – without making a mess.
  25. Performance matters | You don’t receive raises for trying. You get them for exceeding performance objectives. In other words, in business you don’t receive Blue Ribbons for an average performance.

What other “rules of work” might you add to this list? Let us know, in the comments below!


Steve_Levy_AuthorAbout the Author: Steve Levy is focused on recruiting, career counseling, social media, and organizational development consulting – and has been referred to as “the recruiting industry’s answer to Tom Peters”. Steve is an incurable blogger (recruitinginferno.com and RecruitingBlogs.com among many others) and social media participant who is passionate about veteran issues. Steve has been a COI with Armed Forces recruiting for many years, a Navy volunteer “fitness consultant”; his family has a storied history of service to our country.

Steve is a Tau Beta Pi engineer from the University of Vermont (there is no such thing as a former Engineer, Marine or Jesuit) with his graduate degree in Industrial/Organizational Psychology from Hofstra University. Follow Steve on Twitter!



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