This summer, I had the wonderful opportunity to be an intern at a company I have admired for a very long time. This being my first summer internship in the United States, I went into it having no idea what to expect, but excited and eager beyond belief. Over the course of eleven weeks, I learned a lot, not only about the trade I am in, but also about dealing with people, the so-called 'real world,' and myself. Here are a few lessons I learned this summer that I will carry on throughout the rest of my career, both academic and professional.
1. Living alone is hard - and expensive.
Not only was rent worth about half of my pay, I also had to buy groceries and afford other miscellaneous expenses as well. Had it not been for the fact that my parents helped me out with rent, I would have wound up having very little money left over by the end of the summer. Even then, I really learned to distinguish between what I really needed and what I could do without, whether it was bringing my own lunch most of the time instead of eating at the company food venues, or trying to limit my outings with friends to once a week.
If you have the option, try sharing an apartment so you can split rent, or simply commute from home if your family lives close enough (or sometimes, even if it might be a little far, you will spend less on gas on the long run than you will on rent).
2. Show up on time, even if others don't.
This one is a no-brainer. Do your best to show up right at the time set by your internship guidelines, unless your direct supervisor or manager tells you otherwise. Your timeliness is a direct reflection of your eagerness and work ethic, and is especially important if you're looking for your internship to turn into a job after graduation. So, if the time you get to the internship location is in your own hands (by that I mean if someone is not giving you rides or you don't depend on public transportation), show up on time.
3. There's a line between familiarity and disrespect; don't cross it.
The company I interned at had a very casual culture. The first time I spoke to my manager as "Mr. - " he was like "hahaha no." However, there is a line that, especially as an intern, one should not cross. I will never forget the cringe-worthy moment when a fellow intern greeted the CEO, "Hey man, how's it going?" Needless to say, the CEO seemed quite surprised.
For the love of all that's holy, don't be that person.
4. Just because there is no dress code doesn't mean you should not dress appropriately.
Some workplaces require business-casual or full-on business attire. However, even if you're at a place where the dress code is "please wear clothes," make an effort to look presentable. Like timeliness, it reflects well on your attitude as an intern. Also:
5. Bring a sweater.
Basically, be prepared for temperature fluctuations in the office. Feeling too cold or warm is one of many things that will hinder your concentration. It's nice to be ready for anything.
6. Don't be afraid to think outside the box.
For starters, if a task requires you to send out 73 emails, there's probably a more efficient way to do it. This happened to me: in a particular task that required contacting the account teams of 73 different clients, I stuck to the conventional format of emailing each team separately, with all its members cc'd on a single email. What I should have realized sooner, however, was that there was tremendous overlap in account managers for each customer. Thus, I wound up sending nearly fifteen emails per person. They were not happy, and made that very clear to my manager and supervisor. Although the latter covered for me and took the blame, telling the account teams that I had simply done as they had told me, I felt incredibly embarrassed because I knew I should have known better. The bottom line is: if you know there is a more efficient way to do a task, don't be afraid to discuss it with whoever assigned it to you.
7. It's okay to write angry emails; just don't send them.
In a large-scale project, I found myself working with a particular intern who was, to say the least, very hard to work with, to the point where their behavior could have constituted a form of bullying to myself and the other interns involved in the project. In the height of my stress, I wrote this person a very long email detailing everything they had done to give the team a hard time and cc'd the internship coordinator in it. However, before sending it, I asked a fellow intern and good friend of mine from college to take a look at it.
After reading the message, she advised me not to send it. "Anything you put in writing can be used against you. For all you know, this person could build a strong argument against you and make you seem like the bad guy, even if you're not. Talk it out with them in person instead."
Following my friend's advice, I did not send the message, but resorted to calmly speaking with the person instead. The first conversation did not go well, but after a couple more, we reached a calm compromise and made amends, however superficial. This would not have happened had I sent an email that could have wound up costing us both the chance to get hired after graduation.
Remember, anything you put on record can be used against you. Be smart about it.
8. Never take part in office gossip.
Speaking of things that might reflect badly on your character, here's another one: gossiping. If others confide in you, simply listen. However, do your best not to criticize your co-workers with anyone. Your safest answer probably is, "I have opinions, but I'm the intern so I won't say them." This type of reply usually is the least offensive way to get out of the gossip boat, without leading people to believe that you're not commiserating with them because you are "above" them.
9. It's okay to unplug on weekends when you can.
Unlike school, work is not 24/7. Don't be afraid to unplug after work and on weekends. That said, if you have a time-sensitive project that needs to be done as soon as possible, work your butt off until you finish it. This reflects eagerness and good work ethic, two very good things for an intern to have.
10. Don't be afraid to ask for more work - after you do your assigned work to the best of your ability.
My manager once wrote a book containing advice for people who ended up in sales careers. Although I am not in sales (thankfully, as I realized after reading that book), one of the best pieces of advice I took away from it goes as follows:
Do your best on the work you are assigned. Only after you prove to your superiors that you can do your assigned work to absolute perfection should you let them know that you are capable of taking on more complex assignments. The fact that you yourself know that you can do harder work than whatever you have been assigned does not mean that your managers do, so prove yourself first and move up as you go. Otherwise, you'll just be perceived as that arrogant, overeager newbie that is always looking for the next best thing.
This all said, go forth, and best of luck!