Riding around NYC today in the back of an Uber, I spent a few minutes thinking about my first summer internship. Here’s what I wish people had told me:
1. Be on time. Every damn day, to damn everything. No matter how important you think your time is, it’s less important than the person waiting on you. Seriously, experiment with your chosen transportation a few days before to make sure you know how long it will take. No one cares about the traffic jam you didn’t anticipate.
2. Do what you say, say what you do. Don’t be false or unreliable, or hide your mistakes. You have no track record, so your word is your value. Don’t diminish it before it can accrue value. And, for goodness sake, don’t become the collateral damage of an office politics spat.
3. Do your homework. Do your homework on the organization, on the staff, on the competition, and on the address of the office and your transportation options (see #1). Once there, keep doing homework: read everything you can find, including what’s on the shelves of the people you one day want to be.
4. Overdress for the first day. You can always dress down on subsequent days. But, never dress down so much that your higher-ups can’t just bring you along to an event at the spur of the moment.
5. Squeeze in time to get to know people. Follow them to the elevator, go out of your way and walk them to their bus stop, give blood next to them (seriously, I got my first real job this way), whatever it takes as long as you aren’t clingy, to make sure that your professional development is done in their found moments.
6. Be grateful. There a handful of mentees who consistently write me thank you emails — and even fewer who hand write and snail mail notes — and I will go out of my way to include them in anything I think might be of interest or create opportunity for them. It takes fifteen seconds, and creates a lifetime of good impressions.
7. Make it easy. If there are issues that you care about, want to learn about, want exposure to, and you see peers or higher-ups active or attending related events, go talk to them and ask if you can ever tag along. They’ll likely say yes. And if they say no, they’ll likely look for some other way to help. The one thing they won’t do is sprout ESP and know that you are interested unless you say something.
8. Listen more than you talk. The internship is not your chance to impress everyone by showing off how much you know; it’s your chance to impress everyone by learning everything you can. And, that includes learning how to use the coffee maker.
9. Ask for help. Don’t feel like you have to know how to do everything. Everyone was new once. Showing your vulnerability is better than making stupid mistakes. Learn what to do, but also why things are done a certain way so you can apply that knowledge to the next responsibility handed to you.
10. Eat the world. Go to networking events, go to speaker series lunches, go to happy hour (but watch the alcohol and the alcohol-fueled social media posts), be surprised by what makes your co-workers tick, attend a ball game, volunteer, fall asleep at the opera. Get your work done, but take this summer when you have no other obligations — trust me, mortgages, children, aging parents, death and taxes — and eat the world for breakfast.