An internship is an awesome way to check a few things off of your list all at one go. You get real-world experience that you can transfer into the workplace (and potentially a job offer), the chance to network and get your name out there, and maybe even some course credits and compensation for your time.
The Dos and Don’ts of Internships
A lot of this, though, depends on looking the part and dressing for success. In addition to looking your best throughout your internship, you also need to strike the right balance between communicating your experience and remaining impressionable and open-minded to new information.
Dressing for Success
At times it can definitely be easier to know what not to do. By way of example, you’ve probably heard more than a few horror stories about the “Gilligan’s Island” intern: The straggler who shows up wearing open-toed sandals and a confused look that gives the impression they’ve spent too much time in the sun. Don’t let that be you.
You’ll want to pay attention to what everyone else around the office is wearing and dress accordingly, at least for your first few weeks.
When you’re not sure, make sure that you dress up rather than dressing down and declaring your own Casual Friday for the duration of the internship. It’s probably also best to avoid garish or flashy colors in favor of more staid, professional garb. Translation: Leave the Elton John and Lady Gaga impressions for Halloween.
If we’re talking an internship at an upscale office, you’ll probably also want to leave the body piercings at home, and consider concealing tattoos until you’ve scoped out the situation and figured out that they’re acceptable to display on the internship (or not). Remember that it’s better to dress up rather than down and discretion is the better part of valor.
What do we mean by “appropriately” here? Basically, there are all different kinds of workplace cultures that you’ll likely encounter on your internships and throughout your own career. While they’re just qualitatively different and one’s not better than the other, workplace cultures can vary from nonchalant and laid-back to a little stuffy and based around traditional hierarchies.
In the latter scenario you’ll want to use more professional forms of address – this could, as examples, be using “Mr.” or “Dr.” when addressing your supervisors. Just like the concept that it’s almost always better to lean on the professional side when it comes to dress code, going with professional forms of address is the best bet for the first week or until your supervisors give you the OK to be on a first-name basis from thereon out.
Ask Questions, Be Receptive
It’s also OK to ask questions right off the bat, as long as they’re done in a respectful way. The vast majority of internship supervisors will actually tell you that they’re not expecting you to know everything from Day 1 – if that were the case then they’d be the ringleader for a job fair rather than advising interns for the summer.
Still, make sure that you’re listening when your boss is talking to you and soak up everything like a sponge. Even better, carry around a notepad to jot down what you’re being told: This creates a much better rapport between you and your supervisor, shows that you’re serious about learning, and creates an impression of professionalism that your supervisor won’t soon forget.
Along with dressing the part and avoiding terms like “bro” and “dude” in the workplace, asking researched questions can quickly put you one step ahead of the competition.