Whether you’re looong past your interning days or just about to make your interning debut in the flourishing business ecosystem, it does one good to step back and put yourself in the shoes of an intern: essentially a paid observer, learner, and most importantly value-adder. To get really metaphorical (you’ve probably picked up on this annoying theme throughout my writings), who among us is not an intern in the business of life, where we observe, learn, and add value until we hopefully pass onto something better? Here are ten internship best practices, in my humble opinion:
1. Always say hi to the girl in line next to you.
Maybe you both have a passion for delicious salads, or maybe you could both go on for hours about your favorite historical sites, but definitely find a way to make a friend out of all those new faces. Everyone will most likely be on the overwhelmed side of nervousness on the first day, so finding an ally in the room can work wonders.
2. Develop birdwatching skills.
The business world is loud, competitive, and busy with started-from-the-bottom-now-I’m-here mentalities. Here’s a way to stand out: be quiet and simply watch (not to be confused with having a glazed-over-I’m-bored sort of expression.) Absorb! Never have I ever regretted paying attention and being observant. Remember names like they’re the words to your favorite song. Watch carefully how people treat each other, since it reveals their true colors every time. And especially, be open and curious to learn about whatever crosses your path.
A great way to exercise intelligence is to gather it first.
3. Never be afraid to speak up and give a compliment.
I’ve had my heaping share of shy days (when I get this itch to drive far away and melt into the background of some obscure diner) but this is a fabulous people-rule that will never let you down. Genuine compliments are (almost) a foolproof way to initiate conversation and plant the seeds of respectful and trusting relationships. People love to feel noticed. In case that’s not enough to spur you to action, just think about how great you feel when on the receiving end of a meaningful compliment. Hello, walking-on-sunshine type of feelings!
4. In general, take care of your team work first and then begin your personal projects.
Pretty soon into the internship, a lot of offers to work on projects both in teams and individually will begin to flow in. In most cases, tackling your portion of the teamwork is a best practice as there are others relying upon you. Don’t be lured by the short-term buzz of flying through personal projects while sacrificing the valuable experience and trust gained by learning to work on a team.
5. Read industry-related articles– and pass them along!
An insight is not an insight until you share it. A mentor just flat-out told me to sent him interesting articles one morning, and it’s definitely been mentally filed under top 3 pieces of professional advice I’ve ever gotten. Not enough people take the time to educate those around them, much less begin a conversation about things that matter. Instead of going for the easy small-talk pieces, engage your coworkers by discussing ideas that really matter to you both.
6. What’s your story?
It’s inevitable that people will be asking you a little bit about yourself, and so being able to tell your story is a paramount ability. I definitely still rehearse mine in the mirror from time to time 🙂 Be concise, show your character, and don’t take yourself too seriously.
7. You are your best teacher.
Sometimes I really pity those that are on the opposite end, delegating tasks to the interns. While some instruction is obviously necessitated, it’s a huge asset to be able to find the answers yourself. This means know the tools you have at your disposal, which are essentially unlimited given the internet. You are not above YouTube tutorials!
8. Read. And be proud of it.
My parents brought me up to love this nerdy thing called reading, and not a day has gone by where I haven’t thanked them for sharing that passion. Turns out that the business world is indeed inhabited by adults (for the most part), thus two of the coolest attributes one can have are a love of reading and a natural curiosity for the world around us.
9. Everything about you is a direct reflection on you.
By now you probably know the power of each little thing when it comes to first impressions, but don’t gradually backslide into laziness each day after. Excellence is a habit. And if you screw up once in awhile– which would only make you human– remember that each day is a new start.
10. Develop a vision that transcends the work week.
Internships are a lot like dating (now that I think about it, so are a lot of things.) It is not enough to only focus on the short-term, rather, allow a long-term vision to be the guiding star in your behavior and it will save you much heartache. Is this a company you’d want to work for permanently? If so, are you being cognizant of the little ways of building rapport, respect, and going the extra mile? If not, how do you want to be remembered?
Here’s to coffee galore & endless opportunities!