Many recent grads face a big problem: it’s hard to get a job without experience. And at the same time, how do you get experience without a job?
One common solution to this age old dilemma is to obtain internships – either while you’re still a student or immediately after graduation. However, all internship experiences are not created equal. And because an internship is generally an intern’s first experience in the professional world, there are a few mistakes that are easy to make.
Here are some tips to help increase your success as an intern:
1. Get to Know Colleagues
On the first day of most internships, your supervisor will take you around to meet the different people you will work with. If this doesn’t happen, make sure to introduce yourself – although be careful to do so at a convenient time; don’t interrupt someone when they are obviously busy.
Be friendly! Find out if you have common interests. Inquire politely about people’s backgrounds. Make sure to treat everyone equally well, from the head of the department to the receptionist.
2. Conform to the Dress Code
Even before you start the job, find out what style of work-wear is appropriate. A law firm or a Fortune 500 company will almost always have a different culture regarding clothing than a graphic design firm or a theater company. For your first few days at the job, always err on the side of conservatism. You can always dress down, if appropriate, as time goes on, but it’s hard to correct a bad first impression made by dressing too casually when you start.
3. Be Careful About Using the Internet
Today, most of us are used to having access the internet whenever we want – not just from our primary home computer, but also from cell phones, laptops, tablets and any other devices we have as well. Nonetheless, at work, you should focus on using the internet for professional purposes. Don’t check your Facebook, Twitter, personal email, or the latest baseball or basketball scores. Don’t use Gchat, or Facebook chat, or any other type of chat services. Don’t tell yourself “it’s just this once”, or that you’re only taking a break.
Even if your co-workers or the other interns are doing it, showing that you can stay focused on work and not find yourself distracted by the internet is one of the biggest things you can do to set yourself apart.
4. Be Proactive
We all know the sense of relief that sets in when a task is done, but don’t rest on your laurels. Take initiative and seek out more work right away. If your internship involves a single sustained project, find out what the next phase is. If not, find out about your next task. If one person doesn’t have work for you, ask if there is someone else you could help.
Don’t hesitate to do anything, even if it feels like busy work. You want to show you can be a team player and that you will do what it takes to make everyone’s job go smoothly.
5. Don’t Get Involved in Drama
Most offices have interpersonal conflict or issues, from workplace rivals to secret romances to break-room gossip. Whatever you do, do not get involved. In particular, don’t let anyone use you as a sounding board for their complaints about the boss. It’s especially important to keep this rule in mind if you are invited to activities like happy hour or the company picnic.
It can be easy to forget yourself in a more informal atmosphere. Remember that as long as you are interacting with co-workers, even if it is not actually at work, you need to stay professional.
6. Maintain Connections
Once the internship is over, make sure to stay in touch! Send an email every once in a while to check in on how your former department is doing. Show interest in how the projects you were involved in are progressing. Let your former co-workers know how your own education is going and when you are planning to graduate. This could lead to valuable advice when you are ready to look for a permanent job, not to mention valuable references and recommendations, or perhaps even a job itself!
What lessons did you learn the hard (or easy) way from an internship that you would share with recent graduates today?
About the Author: Allison Rice is the Marketing Director for Amsterdam Printing, a leading provider of customized pens to order and other promotional products to grow your business and thank customers. Allison regularly contributes to the Promo & Marketing Wall blog, where she provides actionable business tips. Follow Allison on Twitter!