The Do’s and Don’ts of Having an Internship

As a third year intern in the corporate world, I feel I have some advice to bestow upon the internship virgins out there.

Do:

  • Learn the software. Whether it’s outlook and Webex or some other office software. Please spend time the first few weeks really learning it. Often the first few days will be so boring you want to tear hair out, or worse fall asleep at your desk. Just go down to the cafeteria, get yourself a large coffee and read some user manuals. You will thank yourself when your boss is working from home and you know how to use the online meeting software.
  • Show up on time and stay the whole day. I don’t care if you have tickets to Summerfest or you’re trying to make happy hour sushi. You should be so thankful for your internship you are basically worshiping the ground your manager walks on (too far?). But seriously, if you are given the opportunity for great experience at least put in your full time.
  • Make your boss’ life easier. This was the single best advice I have received regarding internships. This can mean anything from bringing a kleenex box to the morning meeting to redesigning a company spreadsheet. This is the difference between you being the intern that got away (or better, didn’t and got offered a job!) or being “what was that intern’s name a few years back?” I’m not kidding this is the big one.

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  • Learn the lingo. My first year, I was so overwhelmed by the vocabulary that I wanted to hide in the fifth floor bathroom and cry about my incompetency. I would wikipedia words during my break-which was only mildly helpful because many catch phrases were company specific- and read user guides and documents even on my off hours. Now, I have no problem talking about what assay is testing on which  platform and what kind of project it is.  I didn’t learn how to speak diagnostics by osmosis, I actually studied and paid attention. I know shocker, you thought you had three months off from that.
  • Befriend the other interns. I seriously met some of my best friends interning. Being at the bottom of the corporate food chain together is a great bonding experience. Most likely they share some of the same interests as you, and you have something to break the ice with. Eating lunch with other interns offers you a safe(er) place to vent about how little you really understand and that guy in the cube behind you who fights with his wife over the phone.
  • Ask Questions. Besides making your boss’ life easier this is the most important tip I have. I think the biggest issue for most people is that they don’t know what’s a stupid question. My first summer I over heard another intern ASK WHAT EXCEL was. Okay, I’m sorry if you don’t know what excel is, and you are working in the quality area of a fortune 500 company you better frickin ask. Sometimes it’s less intimidating to ask another intern or someone else new and that’s fine, just as long as they know what they are doing.

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(We actually all (interns in my area) went out for dinner on many occasions. Both of them (and me lol) are back–one is working full time, and the other is on summer during med school and I see both of them every day even two years later!)

Don’t

  • Take advantage of lunch breaks/ your boss’ days off. Just because your boss is taking a vacation day, doesn’t mean you get to leave at 3 pm. I’m sorry if this is news to you, but interns don’t (usually) get vacation days. Your boss may not know you’re leaving early, but everyone else will. Don’t underestimate office gossip.  Recently I overheard an intern she ate lunch at her desk and then went shopping for an hour and a half and put down a half hour lunch. Be smart, you’re obviously smart enough to get the internship now, please, be smart enough to keep it.
  • Wear anything even remotely too tight or short. Just don’t. Don’t think about it, don’t buy anything tempting, don’t even take it out of your closet to “try on”. If on any level it reminds you of something from a sexy secretary halloween costume, please for the love of God, don’t wear it. You’ll feel uncomfortable and so will your 40-year old co workers.
  • Don’t show up hungover or 154327x worse, still drunk. I don’t care if your best friend of 15 years birthday is on a Wednesday. By all means, have A drink, maybe TWO but whatever you do, do not show up smelling of alcohol. Everyone can tell.
  • Watch netflix/sleep. Yes, I’ve seen it. No, don’t do it.

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  • Try to cover up a mistake. This is especially important if you are working in a lab or doing something a consumer might eventually be affected by. It’s not only a waste of resources for the company, but could potentially harm someone down the line. If you make a mistake just take a deep breath and tell your manager. Newsflash, you’re an intern they don’t expect you to be perfect.

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