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

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.

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 reportdeliveries – 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!