An Intern’s How-To Guide

You’ve done your research, applied, interviewed, even purchased a blazer and finally landed the internship of your dreams. It’s your first day and you arrive, head-to-toe, in business casual plus those rose-colored glasses.  But, then you realize you left your planner at home, your boss’ coffee order went in one ear and out the other and you’ve ended up hopelessly lost looking for the bathroom. So your first day didn’t go as planned, no worries, here are 12 tips to set yourself up for internship success.

1)   HS Déjà Vu

Remember that high school drama? It doesn’t just dissipate with your degree. There’s still a social hierarchy—the queen bees still wear high heels and give you the side-eye, and the nerds still have no work-life balance. And the interns—we are the ones taking coffee orders (cappuccino with “extra foam”), making Staples runs for printer ink and constantly scribbling notes, all the while walking off the pain of those new-flats-blisters. The way to navigate this? Find a few office friends! Everything is easier once you have a handful of people to eat lunch with. It never hurts to see a friendly face as you walk in, so take the time to say good morning to the receptionist.

2)   TMI

Don’t pretend like anyone in the office doesn’t have a life outside work; we all know clubs exist, and we frequent them. When your co-workers share a little TMI about their night before, and you are part of the morning after, just smile and nod. Keep calm, and keep your boundaries. Don’t overshare just because they do.

3)   BYOW (Build Your Own Workspace)

More and more we find ourselves working from strange locations—coffee shops, living rooms, your boss’ loft. It can be tricky to navigate a professional relationship in a personal environment, so it’s up to you to BYOW (Build Your Own Workspace). To stay focused at home, close other tabs, turn off distractions and set working hours. Still dress the part for work meetings, even if they are outside the office. And feel free to still come armed with your boss’ favorite caffeine fix.

4)   Feelin’ Snack-y

Come prepared with snacks: almonds, chocolate-covered espresso beans, hummus and pretzels or an apple. When the afternoon munchies kick in and it’s hard to focus, your no-fail, healthy snacks are there to support you and your work ethic.

5)   The #Boss

It can be difficult to work with someone who you don’t, let’s say, vibe with. Maybe expectations are over-ambitious, or maybe they’re non-existent. Either way, sometimes the workplace hierarchy lends itself to unhealthy relationships. Expect to take a little heat as the intern, but know when to draw the line when it’s hurting you. Self-care is important when this plays a role in your internship, so find a way to ground yourself. Meditation, journaling, kickboxing and talking it out with friends are all great ideas.

6)   Fashion Forward

This is not your grandmother’s internship so don’t confine yourself to a blazer and heels. You can still express yourself—just keep it professional and appropriate. Your boss’ personal style is a great resource to gain wardrobe inspiration from, and the intern manual’s dress code is helpful, too. Pair a kimono that expresses your personal style with pants and wedges for a complete business casual look that is still fun.

7)   Stay Woke; Stay Employed

We all know that today’s office environment is a millennial/Gen. X-er/boomer combo. Language surrounding current political and cultural topics have changed, and it’s important to remember that not everyone has a millennial partner-in-crime to check them. Perhaps you’re the office’s Chosen Millennial. When dealing with coworkers who use outdated language, keep it polite and informative—you’re teaching them, not accusing them.

8)   Email vs Text

Your boss might give you their cell phone number, but that isn’t an invitation to emoji-time. When in doubt, email it out. It’s much easier to maintain professional relationships and boundaries when exchanging emails. Email etiquette is safe: address your recipient, be friendly, follow standard capitalization and grammar rules and have a personal but professional sign-off, GIF-free.

9)  IT 1.0

You will be asked IT questions. You are a millennial, after all. Don’t be afraid to let your boss know that you are not a coder. Be open to learning how to hook up a printer (you can figure out more technology than you think), but don’t feel obligated to purchase a How to Program for Dummies book on Amazon. As an unpaid intern (or even one of the lucky few who cashes out), it’s not your job to be the Apple Genius of your workplace.

10)  (Not) Getting it Done

Your boss doesn’t know your limits, and it’s important for you to set them. Inevitably, you will not meet certain expectations, probably because they don’t fall under your strengths. Show your boss what you excel at, and listen to all of their proposals for assignments and projects, including sandwiches for lunch, to ultimately create a relationship that pushes you to learn more and opens space for you to show your strengths. Remember, know when to say no, but don’t make it your default.

11)  B – O – R – E – D

Not everything you’re doing is life-changing, groundbreaking world-bettering work, and sometimes those menial tasks put you in a slump. That’s OK. Acknowledge the slump, binge-watch your favorite Netflix show, have a vent sesh over mint chocolate chip ice cream and show up the next day. Think about the end goal. Maybe have a vision board next to your desk or an inspirational quote, perfect for those days when the most glamorous part of your job is retrieving markups from the printer. Chin up, friend. One day you’ll see the beautiful culmination of the big projects and the small assignments.

12) Stuck Like Glue

Interns are in it together! No need to be overly competitive; there’s room for everyone to do well. Other interns can be a great sounding board for ideas and to decompress with. Plus, interns are a network too—you never know what connection could get you the job down the road. So grab lunch off the clock with your intern friends, and you are sure to make it through.

Now you have all the tools necessary to rock that internship. So don’t forget your planner tomorrow, and we’ll see you on the other side.

By Sigal Kahn and Elia Essen

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