The summer intern’s handbook: 7 steps to success

By Yasmin Akbari Observations Editor

As the school year winds down, many students will be looking forward to late summer nights and days spent sleeping and relaxing. Others, however, will begin the challenging adjustment from a school-based routine to a routine characterized by performance reports and picky bosses.

My first internship caught me unprepared and inexperienced in the unique yet traditional corporate world. Whether interns are working in a science lab or a cubicle office, there are many unspoken rules that they can only obtain through experience. To all you summer interns out there: bosses aren’t gaining much from having 16 and 17-year-olds roaming around the halls of their offices. Remember, this is an opportunity you should take advantage of, and to do this – you must first establish your reliability and responsibility

1) Be on time. This is the most important yet sometimes overlooked rule you must follow. Employers don’t notice if interns arrive at work on time – that is the expectation. But, if you show up late, frappuccino in hand, your boss won’t be happy.

2) Taking the metro? Get there at least an hour and fifteen minutes before you need to be at work, especially if you are riding into the District. During the six weeks I spent working in Dupont Circle, I boarded three malfunctioning trains and five trains that were so crowded they had to be stopped and emptied. Save yourself from the obnoxious “I’m sorry I’m late but…” explanations and just wake up a little earlier. The worst scenario is that you get to work early.

3) Though it depends on the employer, some bosses tend to avoid giving work to interns. To truly gain knowledge and experience you must be aggressive and ask for assignments. However, remember to avoid seeming too needy or annoying–that’s a huge turn-off to busy bosses. Bosses will generally start giving you easy, can’t-go-wrong assignments that anyone could probably do. These tests of your ability show your employer just how much effort and attention you give to your projects.

4) Don’t waste your time on Facebook. Trust me, it’s much easier said than done. If you’re working in a corporate environment, chances are the administrators are watching what employees do on the computer. Don’t get too excited if you think your boss has not caught you yet; he or she probably knows and does not have the time or desire to care. At the end of the day, interns who fool around on the computer listening to music on Pandora or tweeting will get bad reviews and little to no real work.

5) If you are on top of your game and your boss truly does not have anything for you to do, spend your extra time doing something productive. Research the company, read the news and find interesting articles that are relevant to your field of work. As a news intern at Radio Free Europe, whenever I didn’t have any assigned work I would research and find news that my boss may have missed and give it to him, even though I am sure he rarely used it. Even working on college applications or doing a short SAT section looks better than wasting your time on Instant Messenger. Look and act professional and your coworkers will treat you accordingly.

6) Dress appropriately. For girls especially, the summer months pose a wardrobe problem as it becomes difficult to find a happy medium between stylish and professional looking clothing. If you show up to work wearing something you may wear to school, chances are you dressed inappropriately. Dress conservatively and comfortably if you want adults working there to take you seriously.

7) Most importantly, remember that this internship is not like going to school. For the first time in your life, your mentors will not harass you to do your work. If you truly want to be successful, work diligently and make yourself distinguishable. Become the person your boss can rely on to do last minute projects. Even if you don’t want to do a specific assignment, accept it with grace and put the utmost effort into it anyway. Finally, remember that work assignments cannot be treated like traditional homework–if you don’t do your office work consistently, they’ll just throw you out. Simple as that.

Internships can be rewarding if interns put in the effort. If you really want to sit in on that next meeting with the guest panelist or expert, show that you can carry yourself in a professional manner. Make a good impression this summer, and your boss might even offer to write a college recommendation or put in a good word at your next job. The keys to success in the corporate world, and arguably, anywhere else, are self-control, a positive self-image and persistence.