“The real glory is being knocked to your knees and then coming back. That’s real glory. That’s the essence of it.” -- Vince Lombardi
9:00AM. It’s time.
After a deep breath, I walk in through the double doors to internship day one.
Okay so I wasn’t expecting a party to greet me, this was a high-end, sought after designer (obviously that wasn’t the cool thing to do), but I didn’t even see my mentor who hired me. No big deal, I’ll just take a seat on this bench near the showroom.
One, two, three girls walk through the doors – all flashing me a quick, “Hey, intern,” smirk. Great. Am I that obvious? Before I knew it I got my answer.
A tall, gorgeous woman with long, effortless brown hair stopped her tracks and turned to me. “Who are you?”
“I’m Sydney. I’m the new intern.” I said, somewhat caught off guard.
She paused, eyed my last-season ensemble, and said something that I will never forget. “I don’t even know who hired you,” and continued on to greet another striking employee in the office.
Holy. Shit. I remained speechless on the bench. My mindset preparation for internship week one just took a cannon ball straight down the drain. Sticks and stones may break your bones but damn, those words hurt. My mind was too occupied replaying that scene that I didn’t even notice my mentor walk in.
“Hi, you must be Sydney?”
*Insert fake smile here*
“Hi! Yes. Sorry, I got here early I think.” I checked my watch again, acting like I didn’t already know that she was exactly fourteen minutes past the time she told me to arrive.
“Welcome. I’ll introduce you to everyone.” She quickly turned and headed into the office where smirk 1, 2, and 3 were conversing about their fabulous weekends.
I gathered my purse, my outwardly noticeable insecurities and made sure my smile was anything but a frown. Cheers to day one.
Before I scare you, I do want to be upfront about one thing. The first week is always the most nerve-wracking and difficult week of any internship. It is very similar to the first week at a new job – you have a flux of mixed emotions and you do not quite know what to expect. The major difference, however, is that you are still a student, which can benefit you in some cases as well as hinder you in others. The benefit is that you are not supposed to know everything – you are there to learn. Unfortunately, the learning-student identity can hinder the amount of responsibilities you are given. Some first weeks are easier than others, but it is still so important to remain positive as well as portray positive body language because first impressions are key. Good or bad, effortless or awkward, first impressions just sort of stick.
Depending on the type of internship you have, your mentor may or may not already expect you to exhibit certain skills. If you have a skill listed on your resume that your employer inquired about, you better know how to apply that skill because a deceiving resume can develop trust and reliability issues. Regardless of your skillset, it is crucial to exude common sense and responsibility right off the bat. How you ask? Follow these six tips to ensure that your employer thinks highly of you from the first, “hello.”
>;;;;;;;;;;;;Communication Is Key
The most important skill to keep in the forefront of your mind is communication. Communication skills sound vague and quite obvious, but I cannot reiterate enough how important it is to be up front and ask questions. Employers would much rather have you ask questions about a task than complete the task incorrectly because you were unsure of yourself. I vividly remember asking my supervisor numerous questions whenever she gave me a task because she assumed I knew how to do everything (a part of that assumption made me feel proud that she would think I was so knowledgeable, but the other part made me feel dumb for playing 20 questions on the regular). I even apologized to her saying I was sorry for all of the questions and that I just wanted to make sure I didn’t make a mistake that would be difficult to go back and fix. Surprisingly, she responded saying how she was glad I asked as many questions as I did because that is what she was there for – to teach me tasks and concepts I was unaware of prior to my internship. Sigh of relief. When you ask questions, it shows that you are thinking ahead and that you have the courage to double check your accuracy rather than wasting time thinking you could figure it out on your own. The first week is all about getting acquainted with the company’s atmosphere, how they operate, and their style of doing so. Each company is different and since you are interning for them, you need to adapt and the only way you will adapt is with thorough, continuous communication and by asking appropriate questions. It is also important to ask the right questions to the right people. When in doubt, direct questions to your mentor or the person above you. If the questions are common sense and can be answered by anyone in the company, ask a fellow intern first. Mentoring an intern is time consuming, so make it as easy on your supervisor as possible and first attempt to answer your own questions from resources around you.
>;;;;;;;;;;;;There Is Always Something To Do
“What are you doing?”
This question will be asked at some point, if not many points of the internship, but this question has two different connotations. The employer could be asking about what you are currently working on, which is a rightful question to ask. But if an employer is asking you, “What are you doing?” because you appear to be an intern without anything to do, then we have a problem. An extremely important lesson I have learned that truly sets apart the good interns from the great interns is one’s level of productivity. If you find yourself without a task to do, find something to do. Ask your employer, “Is there anything I can help you with?” Majority of the time your employer will gladly pass on a task to you and will think highly of you for taking initiative in doing so. Organize the supply closet, ask if anyone needs you to run an errand for them, make a list of goals for that week, do something. Nothing looks worse than an intern sitting at a desk doing jack, or worse, on their cell phone, which brings me to my next point.
>;;;;;;;;;;;;Unless You Are In Control Of A Company’s Social Media Accounts, Get Off The Cell Phone
We live in a time where cell phones and technology consume our lives. There is a time and place for cell phone use, but an internship is not one. Interns make the mistake of mirroring their mentors if they see their mentor on their phone often. Regardless of the people around you, make it a point to put up your cell phone for the day and focus on the reasons why you are there and what you want to accomplish that day. You will be surprised to see an immense increase in your productivity, an increase in the respect earned from your employers, and you will stand out, for the better. Just because the intern next to you is Snapchatting a selfie with the caption “Intern lifeeeeee” does not mean that you should participate in the social media party as well. Act as if a potential employer is always watching you. Creepy, but wouldn’t you want to always be on your best behavior? This brings me to my next point because believe it or not, someone is always watching.
>;;;;;;;;;;;;Someone Is Always Watching
“Sydney, can you come into our office for a minute?”
I put a stop to my current InDesign document for the launch of the company’s new social media account and nervously entered the owners’ office.
“What are you using to work on that document?”
“Oh. I am using InDesign.”
“You know how to use InDesign?”
One week later I was assigned to take over the entire company’s social media accounts as well as create promotional materials to be used online. Even when you are totally unaware, someone is noticing your actions. If you have a strong skillset that is applicable to your internship, take a risk and exemplify those skills. Make them known by your employers in an, “Oh, this ol’ skill?” sort of way. This is not a lesson on boasting and acting like you are above the rest. This is a lesson on how to highlight your abilities in a way that can benefit the company as well as yourself. From time management skills to organizational skills, whatever you know you are great at, do it even better than you did the day before. Make every task one that you would feel confident in doing if the owners of the company were watching you. Yeah, no pressure.
The first week of an internship is the prime time to feel out your job and adapt. Even though you are still learning the ins and the outs of the company, it is important to think ahead and anticipate. If you know that an important client is coming into the office the next day, ask if there is anything you can do to help prepare. If your company has weekly meetings, prepare a list of questions as well as a recap on what you have been working on. Being prepared will not only impress your employer, but it will also make you appear smarter with more ideas. It shows that you are making efforts, which can lead to more responsibilities. Although it is important to focus on the present, it is also beneficial to take time to organize and prepare yourself for what’s to come.
>;;;;;;;;;;;;Smile, Even If You Don’t Always Mean It
No job is fun all of the time. If anyone finds a job with guaranteed fun 100% of the time, contact me. Remember why you are interning: to learn what you enjoy as well as what you do not particularly enjoy. The only way you will find out what you don’t like to do is if you fully partake in the task and later realize it is not right for you. Companies want to hire interns that are able to leave their personal life at the door. This sometimes means forcing a smile when you are asked to run to SAKS for a garment drop off in 90-degree heat. My initial thought may be, “Why can’t the messenger do it?” as I so craved responsibility and tasks that required brainwork. BUT, I also understood that everyone begins somewhere, so my initial defense mechanism evolved into an, “Of course. Need anything else while I’m out?”
“Actually, yes. I’m craving carrots and hummus.”
Dammit. Not what I had in mind.
The first week of an internship is truly exciting if you allow it to be. Regardless of the tasks at hand, it is ultimately up to you to be the best version of yourself to represent the company you are working for as well as your future in the industry. We all have ups and downs, trust me – my thoughts can sometimes turn into an all-inclusive theme park. When you can focus on the reasons why you are there, when you are grateful for the experience, and when you can turn every mistake into a lesson learned – that is when you see the open road for growth. Ultimately the only limits you face are the limits you put on yourself. The worst mistake you can possibly make during your first week is to not take full advantage of the internship at hand. This is your time to contribute, be an example for other interns, and set the bar. What do you have to lose?