When I was a student at the University of Michigan, I spent two summers interning; one in New York City (art museum), and the other in Chicago (advertising agency). Today, I find myself an intern yet again, as I pursue my masters degree. In every capacity - and this applies to my full-time professional experiences as well - I have found that a strong grasp of professional imperatives has served me well. In this era of “go-go-go”-ness and constant interconnectivity, attention to the intricate essentials of professionalism can give you a subtle, yet substantial, edge as a young professional.
Here are my top tips for summertime savviness at the office:
Please and Thank You. Nope, not “plz” and “tx” - I’m talking the real deal here. Call me old-fashioned, but SMS-speak is not for the office. If you’re responding to emails from your phone, include a mobile-only signature on your phone like “please excuse brevity and typos, responding from my mobile” to account for more informal structuring. Never forget to express your gratitude to, say, a department head who lets you shadow a meeting, or the director who meets you for an informational interview or coffee chat. A brief, sincere note (ideally, sent within 24 hours of these types of interactions) are memorable and appreciated.
Follow Suit. Temperatures may be blazin’, but if the office is suited up - so are you. Follow the lead of others in picking your dress for work. My general rule of thumb: if I have to ask my mom if it’s appropriate for work, it probably is not. That said, business casual is all the rage in many companies, and places like Target and Old Navy offer affordable, professional-looking pieces at a fraction of Fifth Avenue prices. Hate ironing? Buy a cheapo mini-steamer (such as the My Little Steamer Mini, $19.99 at Bed, Bath and Beyond) and polish up your look before hitting the desk.
Be a “Go-To”. When you’re working on a group project for a class or organization, what are you known for? Do you prepare an agenda in advance and distribute it to the group? Do you always own an action item? My not-so-hidden talent is that I’m a pretty fast typist, and take incredibly detailed notes. So in group meetings, I tend to be a designated (or self-nominated) note taker. What skill or asset can you bring to the table for your team or department this summer - something that is authentically you?
Anticipate Needs. Having worked in client services for many years, I can confidently tout the benefits of thinking ahead and projecting what my client might need. The same principle applies to working with your new team and manager. By now, you should have a grasp of their everyday tasks and responsibilities. How can you help take something off their plate, either directly or indirectly? What might they need (information, research, etc.) that you can prepare for them? If you’ve identified an extra responsibility or task that you could take on, put together a proposal of what your timeline and deliverable would look like, and share it. Demonstrate your capacity to be a proactive self-starter.
Measure Twice, Cut Once. My mom told me this once, and I’ll never forget it. When it comes to your internship, this means asking questions and fully clarifying what is needed or desired. When working with clients, I always come prepared with an agenda (which includes written questions about tasks or needs) and conclude meetings by listing action items and owners. By the end of a meeting or discussion, if you’re still not clear on a point - clarify! Show that you pay attention to the details. Your information gathering will pay off when you execute a task flawlessly.
Like what you read? Stay tuned for future articles from the DYAC. I hope you have the best internship experience possible, and wherever you are this summer - GO BLUE!