Be Sure to Make the Most of That Summer Internship

It’s summer, and (whether or not your parents believe it) you’re excited to be working!  You’ve landed that coveted internship and can’t wait to get some “real” workplace experience.  So, here’s a good piece of advice – take a deep breath and be sure to go in prepared.  Early experiences in a professional environment can be both rewarding and challenging.

First, confirm the schedule and dress code in advance of your start date.  Then, arrive on-time every day and dress appropriately.  If you are not sure of the dress code, ask!  And no matter how casual the dress code might be, you should never look like you are going to the beach for the day.  Part of your dress code, of course, should be to carry a notebook or binder with you to work each day so that you are prepared to take notes.

Next, remember to be friendly and courteous with everyone.  While this may seem to be kind of a no-brainer, it’s something that will serve you well not only this summer, but throughout your life.  A first, positive interaction can make it much easier to build the longer-term relationships (and references) you will want to have after the summer has ended.  Smile and say hello to each person you meet whether it’s a co-worker, your boss, the President, or the janitor. Being pleasant with everyone you meet will have its rewards.

Do a good job on the work assigned by ensuring that you always finish it completely and accurately.  Don’t rush through things just to get them done – especially those tasks you aren’t all that excited about.  Instead, tackle all the work assigned to you with enthusiasm and an eye on quality.  Remember, often the menial tasks, lead to the meatier ones.  If you can’t get the easy stuff done, your employer might conclude that they can’t trust you with the more important (and usually, more interesting) work.  Ask questions and take notes so that you don’t end-up having to ask the same question, twice.

Keep in mind, as well, that a positive attitude goes a long way in building relationships and making a good impression.  No one building a winning team likes negativity around them.  Stay positive and be enthusiastic.  While you don’t have to be a cheerleader to be perceived as positive, you do have to be mindful of your workplace demeanor.  Consider your body language.  Stand up straight, have a firm handshake, make eye contact showing that you are engaged, and take notes when appropriate.  Recall that over half of our communication is through our body language, so it’s worth thinking about what you are conveying through your nonverbal communications.

Also important: Ask for feedback, and be thankful for it!  When you’ve completed an assignment, ask your manager if there is anything you could have done better or differently.  Ask how you are doing overall and whether you are fully meeting expectations.  Listen to the feedback carefully, and ask clarifying questions.  Clarifying questions are not defensive in nature.  Instead, they are questions to understand more fully the feedback you are receiving, so that you can make the changes necessary to become more successful at the job.  Be grateful for any constructive feedback you receive so that you can adjust and become better.  And when receiving feedback, pay attention to your body language and any comments you wish to offer in response to what you are hearing.  It’s important to stay positive, understand the feedback and then begin thinking through how you can make any changes that might be necessary.  And, of course, your comments should always include a “thank you” to the individual providing the feedback.

It’s important as well to stay professional at all times – whether it be during the regular work day, at lunch with co-workers, or an after- hours reception, etc.  Be smart about the conversations you engage in, and remember you are there to get job experience and build professional relationships – not to find your next date.  If alcohol is served, do your best to limit yourself to sipping on one drink.  This isn’t the time to do shots or guzzle beer… no matter what you may see others doing.  Also, think carefully before you post on social media.  You should always assume your manager (or the President of the organization) will see the information that you post.  Do you still want to share it?  Don’t be fooled into thinking that sharing only with your friends is “secure.”

Finally, make professional connections throughout the summer – taking note of email addresses, phone numbers and connecting with the people you meet through LinkedIn when appropriate.  You should also ask about future opportunities with the company. Remember, for many organizations, summer internships are the pipeline to fill full-time positions.  View your internship as one long job interview that provides you the chance to showcase your great work ethic and capabilities.  You will be glad you did!


filed under: College to Career
Fran Nunan

Written by Fran Nunan

Fran Nunan began her career with The Procter & Gamble Company upon graduation from the University of Cincinnati. After 14 years progressing through a series of operational assignments, she left P&G and established her own HR consulting practice, focused on upgrading and developing talent and implementing HR system improvements. Subsequent to owning her own practice, Fran served in the senior HR leadership roles at both Hydro Systems Company and School Outfitters. Fran holds the Senior Certified Professional (SCP) designation, as well as the Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR) certification.