How To Be The Perfect Intern Molly McAleer

So you got the internship of your dreams. Yay! Wanna make sure you don’t screw it up? Lemme help you.

I should start by saying that I can’t speak for all workplaces and all industries. But! Through my own experience interning at a movie studio in college and my experience working with our interns here at HelloGiggles, I’ve got a grasp on how to make the most of the experience (for both you and your boss).

SAY ‘THANK YOU’

A one line, “Thank you so much for this opportunity, I’m eager to learn and be of help”-type message will mean a lot to an employer and remind them that you were the right choice for the job. I suggest doing this at the beginning, and writing a second email or card toward the end of your experience.

BE HONEST ABOUT YOUR AVAILABILITY

In life, you really shouldn’t be making promises you can’t keep, and in interning, you really really shouldn’t. Don’t sign up for five days a week when you know that three is more practical. If you say three and can somehow show up for five, people will think you’re a rockstar. If you say five and show up for three, you don’t even want to know what they’ll think of you (okay, fine, they’ll think you’re a flake, an airhead and a baby).

If you have regular weekly commitments (and I’m not talking about a damn improv class or Sunday brunch with your girls– shelve that ish for a minute), let your boss know upfront, ideally during the interview process. Your boss will appreciate that you’re being realistic and will understand if it’s something unarguably important, like doctor’s appointments, religious commitments, a part-time job or a college course.

PROVE THAT YOU WERE THE RIGHT CHOICE

Of course it’s important to be yourself and let your personality shine through whenever you can, but it’s also important that the higher ups know you’re taking this opportunity seriously and are grateful for it every day. That is true of any job, but it’s extra important when YOU are the intern they’ve selected out of many applicants.

There’s no shame in being the office nerd. I always was. I showed up early in a clean and conservative outfit, I’d ask people if they needed beverages before I got one for myself and kept my desk so clean you’d never know anyone used that space at all.

Oh and this is super important: If your job involves any kind of event with alcohol (a holiday party, a birthday party, a press event or release party, etc.), treat it like you’re in the office and be ready to help. You don’t want to be remembered as the intern that got all messed up and had to be driven home by someone from accounting at the end of the night, right? No drinking– that’s what you do when you get home.

BE READY TO DO ANYTHING

In many ways, an intern is just an extra set of hands. One day you may be driving to fill a prescription for someone, the next day you may be wading through a decade’s worth of paperwork that needs to be filed, etc. You’re probably going to encounter a lot of tasks you weren’t expecting, but never let it show on your face. Just smile, say you’ll do it and then go freak out in your car or your cubicle while you figure out how the hell you’re going to get it done (and you will).

It’s okay to admit that you’re not entirely experienced in certain areas– most bosses will understand that the whole purpose of an internship is to gain knowledge– but me personally? I’d die before I’d telling a boss that I wasn’t even willing to try.

ASK QUESTIONS, BUT NOT TOO MANY QUESTIONS

Again, interning is about learning and getting some experience under your belt before you’re ready to enter the work-force, so bosses expect that you will have some questions about the way things work and more importantly, the way they work. Ask them how they take their coffee, if there are any must-have contacts you should have at hand and other things that you’d want an intern of your own to know about you.

Totally ask how they file expense reports (Once! Only once! Write everything down the first time they tell you!), ask them who your go-to person on the team is beside them, ask them if there’s any materials you can read about computer programs, operations stuff and company history. Those are all great questions to be asking in your first few days– they’ll set you up so you can answer your own questions.

Not-so-great questions? Anything you can Google. It may seem obvious, but I’ve seen interns ask for directions to a restaurant. That kinda stuff makes you seem like you’re not a self-starter, someone who can think on their feet. And that’s what being an intern is all about. Get scrappy, get resourceful, go make friends with a low-level assistant who you can help out and get tips from. Basically, texting your boss and asking them how to use the printer is the last resort, never the first.

SET YOUR OWN GOALS

Personal anecdote time: As I said, I interned at a movie studio the summer going into my senior year of college. I worked in the publicity department, which was fun because it was current and I like fast-paced jobs where there’s a fire to put out every ten minutes.

Most of my tasks were easy: rolling calls, picking up orders, running to the mail room, stuff like that. But I wanted like, a task, a bigger thing to accomplish. I decided that my personal goal would be to make sure that every single piece of fan mail that came into the office for a celebrity or a director or whatever would get sent to person it was intended for. I remember when I sent off a stack of over two hundred letters to Jane Fonda’s agents. I normally only get a high like that when I finish a script or fold my laundry.

Eight weeks later, I left my internship to go back to school and the fan mail bin was empty for the first time in what I was told was forever. Sure, it was a silly goal, but I found enjoyment in the process and getting a big stack of paper out of the way is always appreciated. BTW, they totally offered me a job when I moved to LA after college. Not saying it was all because of the fan mail, but it definitely didn’t hurt that every time they looked at my desk, I was busy and happy to be busy.

BE YOUR COOLEST SELF AT ALL TIMES

Whether you’re grabbing lunch with the other interns or walking into a meeting with high-level people to take notes, be cool! Not like in a “I’m smoking a cigarette in a beret and look like I’ve been getting boned all weekend by men from all over the globe,” although I do think that’s totally cool. I mean more that you want to be the perfect work-friend (not too close, but close enough to share a giggle when it’s appropriate) and you want to be respectful but not spazzy around the bosses. If your pen isn’t working, don’t announce it to the room like it’s your own personal 9/11– get up and get a new pen and move on with your life.

Your co-workers and bosses are going to ask you some questions about your life (unless they don’t, and you shouldn’t take that personally) and when you answer, speak succinctly and don’t give away that you hate your roommate because she had sex with your ex-boyfriend.

You may be like, “Molls, girl. I’m not an idiot. I wouldn’t do that.” But trust me when I tell you that there can be major downtime at work and things get brought up and you don’t want to give anyone fodder. Just like you don’t want to be the drunk intern, you don’t want to be the intern that had a herpes scare freshman year and has intimacy issues because of it. Personable is cool, TMI is not.

*** BONUS TIP*** WERK

Obviously you’re going to work, but are you going to WERK? You know, make it pop, shine bright like a diamond and all that good stuff? Show up early, have excellent phone manners, remembers people’s names, keep a smile plastered to your face 24/7? I suggest you do!

Don’t forget that a job may not come at the end of this internship, but you’ll be in a position to leave your stank all over that damn office via good impressions. You’ll likely be working with a whole network of people that you can keep in contact with after your job is over– other departments, businesses your company works with, vendors. All of these people should be just as aware as your boss that you’re in it to win it. Of course you don’t want to step over boundaries– don’t be thinking that you’re BFF with the president of the company because you two shared a smile and a laugh in the kitchen once, but if the connection seems appropriate? WERK!

So there you go– play by these rules and you’re bound to have a fantastic interning experience. People will love you, freak out over you, think you’re the best and wonder how they ever lived without you. Or maybe they’ll just think you did a great job and were a pleasure to be around. Either way, you’ll make it, kid. I just know it.

And for the folks at home with their interning years behind them, please chime in with your tips in the comments section! Let’s get a legion of interns out there who know how to do the damn thing.

Image via Angelyne Mabilangan at Daily Aztec

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  1. this is so true!! I remember when I was interning this year, and I was asked to do some totally random stuff at the same time I was doing script coverages, one of them, wrapping a gift ( I’m terrible at that) but hey my boss even liked cos I tried to something my mom always did when wrapping presents, it took me waaay longer, but hey it looked great.
    it was a fun experience, but for some reason the printer/copy machine really had something against me ;)

  2. Also, remember at this time of year it doesn’t hurt to be a bit generous toward those who you work with/for who have given you the internship. I interned at a theater my senior year of college and was due to complete my internship and graduate in December of that year. I got a nice gift basket of goodies-cookies, candy, popcorn, and other snacks for the whole office to share as a thank you and it went over beautifully. Sure, you may not have the $$ for such things, but baking, or even just making cards or something would be greatly appreciated and could get you good references for your resume and/or a job.

  3. When I was in college I interned on the editorial staff at a magazine. Recently, my current boss, who just so happens to be about to take over web hosting for the online version of that very same magazine went into my old internship office. Let me just say, it is a small, small world, and any impression you leave will likely get around to future bosses, whether they are on your references list or not. Well, fortunately I was very successful in my internship, and according to my boss they gushed about me when he went over to their offices. He was so impressed with their testimony, I got a promotion! Everything you do matters, even if you feel like no one is watching, they are. And three years down the road, it could pay off in your current job like it did for me.

    Here are a few things I found my editor loved when I was interning:

    Self-starting, don’t ask too many questions and don’t ask any questions more than once. To try and fail is better than standing around asking 1 million questions. Especially if you’re a writer. That’s what first drafts and editors are for. Especially in your first writing internship. They don’t expect your first draft to be perfect, but they do expect it to be done. Prep for meetings. Make a list of ideas you want to contribute and have it with you on paper, so you don’t forget in the moment. Listen to what your superiors are saying, and contribute when space opens up in the discussion. Don’t be silent, but remember to listen and learn. They know more than you. You may just have the chance share one idea, but at least it will be one that is though out and relevant.

    Speed. Get your assignments done quickly and with a quality outcome. No browsing around on Facebook, no getting caught up in your music. When I kept getting articles done in a timely manner, I was allowed to start pitching my own ideas and take over the blog because they couldn’t come up with story ideas fast enough to keep up with my writing. As you prove yourself, you’ll get to more of what you came there to do, and you’ll have more freedom. But the freedom to be creative is something you have to earn.

    If it’s a small, friendly staff, be kind and be involved. I went to company meetings that I wasn’t required to attend (and wasn’t paid to attend) to show an interest in the organization and be informed when my bosses opened up to me about the joys and frustrations the company was currently dealing with. And be friendly! Don’t be all business and stay in your office and not get to know anyone. I guarantee, they won’t remember you. Smile, share your life, ask questions about theirs. Remember what they say and follow up. I understand this isn’t appropriate for all office spaces, but for an artsy, fun editorial staff, it certainly is. It’s ok for these people to become your friends. I still go visit and have lunch with my old colleagues from time to time. Keep up those connections. Be a genuine person who cares and loves people so no one can find anything bad to say about you, and don’t say bad things about other people.

  4. Fantastic!! At my first job as an assistant, I painted my bosses house for 6 weeks while she was recovering from surgery. It was either that or be out of a job. You do what you have to and you smile the whole time like its the best thing in the entire world.

  5. THANK GOD SOMEONE WROTE THIS. It is staggering, the amount of carelessness and entitlement that I’ve encountered both in fellow interns back in college, and in interns I’ve had over the years. This should be printed, laminated, and handed out to everyone with their high school diploma.

  6. This is so true!
    My internship experience actually lead to my supervisor selecting me as her replacement when she moved. You never know who is watching, whether in your job or your internship, so always go above and beyond with a smile on your face!

  7. LOVE this! Especially the “be willing to do anything” point. I worked with in a group of nine interns for the State Department this summer, and I got rave reviews because I would literally do anything my boss asked (including trading out all the fire extinguishers in a seven story building). Others didn’t get great reviews because they whined too much, and gave off the general impression that they were too good for some activities.

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