In the past few years, I’ve seen young people in their twenties walk in the door and out, full of excitement and fear and earnestness and hunger. Each person–now counting 12–has taught me something fundamental. Some have displayed the occupational hazards of our digitally inundated world: poor grammar and spelling; the haphazard reply; even neglecting to acknowledge emails at all. The best have taught me the beauty of a short, respectful email of acknowledgment, a new social media tool, the pleasure of an exclamation mark.
Because an internship or entry-level job can be the first building block of one’s career, I thought it might be helpful to remember some dos and don’ts–the things that matter, to many of us.
Don’t Check Facebook and your texts all day long. A little break now and then is fine, but try to do this when stepping away from your desk after you’ve completed a task.
Don’t forget a handwritten thank you note after an in-person interview, a heartfelt email thank you when you accept an internship offer, and a written thank you when the internship has ended.
Don’t ask for a promotion too early. Six months, unless you’ve been told a different timeline, is appropriate. When you have “the conversation,” come prepared with reasons for why you should be promoted, and have a number in mind as well as a polite way to inquire about the number your boss has in mind. Most importantly, have the conversation in person, but only after asking your boss in advance for a good time to talk. You want to give your boss a chance to prepare too!
Don’t forget a pen and paper to take notes if you’re called in to your boss’ office.
Don’t make promises you can’t keep: if you mention taking care of work later from home or over the weekend, commit to delivering on this promise.
Don’t sneak out at the end of the day. Your boss should respect your leaving on time.
Don’t offer someone senior to you as a job reference unless you’ve previously cleared it with that person. You don’t want to catch anyone by surprise!
Don’t shy away from taking initiative when you know you’ve mastered something and can do it well.
Do prioritize responding to emails. Even if you’re overwhelmed and can’t humanly get on top of all the tasks flying at you, confirm receipt of an email and state when you plan to be working on whatever is being asked of you if it’s not something you can get to right away.
Do jot that task down on paper, or use a helpful task management system like Asana to make sure nothing slips through the cracks.
Do arrive ten minutes early and leave ten minutes late. Everyone notices small acts of diligence like these.
Do re-read emails to any third party you’re corresponding with before sending off, particularly if spelling or grammar is an issue for you. If you’re responsible for a company’s social media feeds, this rule applies doubly; and if you’re unsure about grammar or syntax etc., Google the correct language first.
Do run a draft by the person you report to: a letter, a tweet, etc. Until your supervisor authorizes you to do otherwise, sending a draft should be your MO.
Do err on the side of apology. Even when you know you’re right but are called out for an error, even when the mistake seems so small it’s not worth acknowledging, apologizing shows respect.
Do ask if you can grab coffee or lunch for others you’re working for. These little things count, and show awareness and humility.
Do dress for the job. This is your job. Even if you’re working at home, get out of your pajamas.
Do call your boss or swing by if you have a quick question. Too many emails with questions don’t help anyone’s workload!
Do ask if there’s anything else you can do when you’ve finished your daily tasks.
Do go the extra mile to check in every month to ask if there’s anything you can do to improve.
Do show general curiosity and ask questions about anything you’re unclear on or anything about the trade. You’re there to learn.
Do you measure up to our “Do” list? Or know someone who would? Great, because we’re hiring! Part-time intern positions are now available at our New York City office.
What was your greatest internship lesson?