Summer Interns: Rules of the Road (and How to Kick Ass)

Written by Paul on June 16th, 2008

I feel old. It’s summer and interns are all over the place.

Although I was an intern for only one summer long, long ago – I’ve undoubtedly known a number of friends that have experienced multiple internships. As with most workplaces, I’ve seen some come away with an enriched vision that could only be obtained through rewarding work with talented professionals while others have left disappointed, frustrated or much, much worse.

Waking up with some serious bedhead

I’m going to share the rules of the road that summer interns should live and breathe – follow them and you’ll save yourself some embarrassment and start impressing your new coworkers. Get to it:

  1. Observe first—then speak. You’re an intern for a reason. Do I really need to explain this further?
  2. Aim high. You’ve got a real job now. While the rest of your friends fold clothes at the latest department store, you’re starting your professional career. Go you.
  3. Introduce yourself to others. That’s right: I don’t know you and I probably deleted the email announcing your arrival. Make the most of your bathroom breaks, copy machine runs and TPS report deliveries – say hello to people on the way.
  4. Set goals. You’re going to report on Project XYZ every Monday. While you’re at it, you’ll be reporting on Project ABC every Wednesday. You get the idea - become the always-gets-things-done kid. Listen, there’ll be plenty of grunt work; get that done, efficiently and professionally, then focus on the real reason you’re here.
  5. Ask for work. There’s nothing greater than an intern that asks to get involved in projects. Sure, do the work that your boss assigns you but don’t be shy when you hear about a project that interests you.
  6. Attend every meeting. Every. Single. One. While you’re at it, go to every lunch that you’re invited to. (Best practice: If invited for a date, don’t go.) It’s the best way to learn how a business works. There’s no better way to learn about office politics, decision making, interpersonal communication and management hierarchies.
  7. Come prepared to work, well rested, and ready. Seriously, no one cares that you were out, like, drinking and, like, hanging out with hotties. You’re working with professionals now, start acting like one.
  8. Make friends with everyone, equally. Sure, make a list of everyone you’re dying to meet and go knock on their doors; if they’re not in their offices, pop them an e-mailed hello. Don’t discriminate: the new employee that no one knows might be the one to tip you off about a job opening next year.
  9. Get over yourself. An internship is an opportunity. You were good enough to get hired, so give yourself a pat on the back but now it’s time gain experience. Be a sponge. Take every assignment. Attend every event. Who cares if you look like an ass? This isn’t the time to play it cool.
  10. Figure out who the ‘stars’ are and do what they do. This is the most important tip – memorize it. These people have done all the hard work for you, all you need to do is mimic them. What could be easier?

Remember: You’re going to get ahead by working your ass off and showing up for everything.

That’s it – now get back to work. Someday, when you’re my new boss, please don’t forget that I helped you succeed in your first internship. So work hard and have a great summer. Now go get me a coffee, intern!

Image Credit: Chaparral [Kendra]

7 Responses to “Summer Interns: Rules of the Road (and How to Kick Ass)”

  • So.. don’t date your co-workers (#6) and learn who’s ass to kiss? (#10?) :)

    — 06/16/08 at 7:36 am

  • Paul – I worked a couple of summers as an intern. It was a great way to make money for college. Your tips here are excellent! Following your advice is a great idea for all interns.

    — 06/16/08 at 7:38 am

  • Yup, internships are a great way to enter a new field as well as compliment your undergraduate studies. Not to mention, an absolute MUST to officially building your resume. You won’t believe how many friends of mine graduated from college (with great GPAs), but an absolute BLANK resume. I admit, i wasn’t the brightest star in my graduating class, but it was my summer internships (every summer for 4 years), that helped me enter directly into a Big 5 consulting firm… straight out of graduation :) Not only did i have a real job, but one that carried an industry name with it.

    Internships are plentiful out there. Companies are always looking for new talent to lend a helping hand, no matter how complex or trivial the tasks may be. Regardless, it’s your ticket “in”. And being a nobody in college with no job, can make you a “somebody” with a paycheck overnight! After that, the opportunities are endless.

    So find what motivates you (for me it was money), and go become an intern. Becoming “part of the club” isn’t that difficult at all. Just depends on how bad you want it!

    — 06/16/08 at 8:33 am

  • Haha, it’s been quite nice being an intern for PBwiki. I get to sort the mail and get coffee for the higher ups like Paul. What fun? Of course, I’m just kidding — I’m gaining real experience and making connections with some incredible people. What more can I ask for?

    — 06/16/08 at 9:53 am

  • Diana D. Jarvis

    Great tips.I would just add not to let your first impressions of people cloud your judgement. Sometimes the friendliest person in the office is actually the resident griper that you need to avoid.

    — 06/17/08 at 6:58 am

  • Jack LaVoy

    Great article, a few lessons I would add.

    11. “If you find yourself in over your head, ask for help…. now” – There’s nothing worse then assigning someone a task only to find out that it was too much for them on the day it’s due. If you take on too much, be a professional, acknowledge your mistake now and ask for help.

    12. “Be yourself, enjoy the experience, but don’t get too comfortable” – Feel free to be yourself, but be careful what you say and do and who to. Like number 2 said, this is a “real” job, these people are not your good friends from school. Something you commonly say or do with your college friends may not go over well with your new co-workers, especially not your boss. Happy Hours are very often the breeding ground for such mistakes.

    — 06/20/08 at 7:56 am

  • Excellent, excellent advice. I have hired many interns and exactly 2 stand out because they followed this etiquette. I would help them even if they called me 10 years later. The rest were basically a waste of MY time.

    — 06/28/08 at 7:39 am

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