It must be summer: Employees are leaving on vacation, the company picnic has been set and, oh yeah – the interns have arrived.
Interns usually arrive full of eagerness and intelligence, but often lacking any real-world experience in how a business operates. The transition from the schoolroom to the workplace can be rough, and many stumble because they don’t know the basic rules of survival.
And more experienced workers often don’t share their hard-won truths, knowing that the interns will be gone in the last days of summer. They don’t want to put forth the energy needed to train such short-timers.
So how is an intern to survive – and make sure the time with a company has a payoff for everyone involved? The key is remembering the basics so that more time and energy can be devoted to making a professional impact.
Some hard and fast rules for interns:
- Dress correctly.
While some interns take their dressing cues from “Sex and the City” characters or believe jeans and T-shirt are the perfect ensemble for any occasion, that’s not a smart philosophy for the workplace. A good “uniform” for male or female interns is khaki or black pants, dress shoes and a blue dress shirt. All clothes must be ironed (front and back). Female interns should wear dresses or skirts if that is how their female colleagues dress, and male interns should wear ties for the same reason.
- Everyone has an agenda.
Whether it’s the old-timer who wants to teach interns that they know nothing, or the fellow intern who wants to sabotage his or her peers, the important thing is to not take office politics personally. This is all part of the learning experience, and interns should watch what they say at all times. They should avoid taking sides in any dispute, and they shouldn’t gossip. Nothing should be put in an e-mail, discussed on the phone or said at lunch that an intern would not be comfortable saying in front of the boss.
- Just say “yes.”
If asked to go to lunch with co-workers, attend a company function or tag along on a client visit, the intern should always accept. An internship is a short period, and it’s critical to make the most of any and all contacts. This is where networking truly takes place, and where an intern often will be evaluated for an ability to fit into a work environment or function.
- Best behavior 24/7.
Interns are judged on everything from how a fork is held to a handshake clasp to behavior in a meeting. Interns should never let down their guard, even at informal events. They should avoid drinking, or only have one drink at an event. Even on their own time, interns should be aware they might run into colleagues, clients or managers. (To join the discussion on internships, check out the blog at www.anitabruzzese.com).
- Ask questions.
Nothing bugs bosses or other employees more than having to clean up messes because an intern acted without checking to make sure something was being done correctly. When interns ask questions, it means they are showing respect for others. While interns should not ask for every little detail, they do want to have a clear understanding of common company practices.
- Welcome to the bottom of the food chain.
Even an employee with two weeks of experience has more clout than an intern. Interns may get chummy with younger workers or feel comfortable enough sharing a story about a wild party with co-workers, but that’s a mistake. At this point, everyone is an intern’s boss.
Anita Bruzzese is author of “45 Things You Do That Drive Your Boss Crazy…and How to Avoid Them,” (www.45things.com). Write to her at: anita(AT)anitabruzzese.com or c/o: Business Editor, Gannett News Service, 7950 Jones Branch Dr., McLean, Va. 22107. For a reply, include a SASE.