It is always important to make a good impression, so plan carefully how you relate to and interact with your supervisor and co-workers.
Look for clues from your supervisor and other staff members on dress codes. On the very first day, dress neatly, simply, and appropriately for your job. If you have questions about the dress code, consult with your supervisor.
Oversleeping is a poor excuse for being late on your first day or on any day. Time a test ride to work before you actually start and make sure to plan enough time for breakfast, dressing, etc.
Your attitude is one of your greatest assets. After your appearance, it is the next factor noticed. A positive attitude will benefit you as well as your co-workers.
Find out about, follow, and respect the regulations of the organization.
Arrange in advance when you need to take a day off and attend all staff meetings and seminars regularly.
Whether you work alone or as part of a team, other responsibilities will come your way if your supervisor can depend on you.
RESPECTING THE TIME OF OTHERS
Consider your supervisor’s and staff members’ time when seeking help on assignments.
GETTING THE JOB DONE
Once you have been on the job a week or so and begin to know what your assignments are, what your resources are, etc., it is probably time to get organized.
1. Schedule your time. Purchase a calendar and schedule your time between free time and committed time (set aside for things you have to do).
2. Mood Scheduling. At different times during the day, you are in the mood to tackle different tasks. Plan to work on important chores at the best time of the day for you. If you work better after lunch, start then and use the morning for less important tasks.
3. Space Out Your Tasks. One big task can be broken into several smaller tasks. This tends to make large projects more manageable.
4. Reward Yourself. Plan to give yourself a small reward when you finish something important.
5. Pace Your Energy. Enthusiasm is wonderful, but be careful not to let it overwhelm you at the start. You may find that you are left with nothing at the end.
6. Set Time Limits. Set time aside to do the things you don’t want to do. Put a limit on the time you will spend on that particular task each day until it is finished.
7. Set Aside Time to Plan. A time for planning and thinking is needed in your work day. Set aside time to plan and think about your assignments.
8. Expect the Unexpected. Give yourself time to finish a project and allow for surprises.
Once you are into the swing of work life, organize your schedule and get a feel for what you are doing. Your supervisor may hit you with a large and complicated project. Unlike your professors, he or she probably won’t tell you how to do it, just that it needs to be done. The challenge to you is to be an active, independent worker and figure out how to do it. Here are a few tips on planning and problem-solving:
Begin by organizing the goals or objectives of the project.
1.Decide if some objectives have priority over others for you or your supervisor.
2. Write up your plans for solving the problems or reaching the objectives.
3. Identify the resources you have and the ones you think you may need.
4. Consider how and when you expect to gather the resources and complete the project.
5. Share this plan with your supervisor and co-workers to see if they find it realistic. Ask for their suggestions for other ways to go about the job.
6. Refine your plan if necessary.
Expecting problems also helps prepare you for them. Deal with them; don’t ignore them. You are capable of making the decision between something you can handle and something to take to your supervisor. Here are a few typical problem situations with potential solutions:
PROBLEMS WITH WORK ASSIGNMENTS
"Go fer" Work: Everyone in a work setting may eventually be asked to do "go fer" work. Routine jobs play an important role in the effective operation of any organization. As a member of a team, you will want to chip in whenever necessary even if, for example, stuffing envelopes was not a part of the job description. However, you may not want it to become your permanent job. Consult your supervisor if you feel your work activities are not challenging you intellectually, emotionally, and in certain skill and experience areas. Use the Internship Contract made with your supervisor as a way to remind him or her why you are there.
Additional Responsibilities: At the same time, be careful about requesting additional tasks and responsibilities. The success of assigned tasks is evidence of your ability and willingness to complete delegated work. Before you ask for extra assignments, be sure that you can handle them and that you have demonstrated your capacity to handle them. Remember, as well, that part of maintaining the delicate balance between working and learning is being aware of the balance that must exist between your needs as a learner and your organization’s needs to serve clients or customers. Be aware that you will not always get what you want. Be aware of the richness of that sort of experience and how you can learn to cope and grow from failure as well as from success.
Personal Time: As an intern, your first priority and commitment must be to your supervisor and to the organization. If you have extra work to do for your faculty advisor back on campus, you may have to do it on your own time. Seminars, tours, discussion sessions, etc. are educational activities you should attend, but there must be a balance between attending these activities and fulfilling your other duties.
Pressure: Meeting deadlines is your responsibility, but if the pressure to finish assignments on time begins to overwhelm you, let your supervisor know. The quality of your work is as important as the time element. The best planning can fall through, so don’t be afraid to say you can’t finish on time or that you think the project is too much for you to handle.
One of the greatest pitfalls of interns is a tendency to assume that supervisors know everything an intern is doing and how he or she feels about it. There is a propensity to see supervisors as all-seeing and all-knowing. Actually, of course, they are more like you than not. And, like you, they need to be told how you are doing and how you feel about it because they may be too busy or forget to ask. Don’t be afraid to speak up. It’s your responsibility as an independent learner and worker and no one else will do it for you. Having unrealistic expectations of your supervisor is as unfair to him or her as it is to you.
PROBLEMS WITH CO-WORKERS
Resentment: Some interns discover, much to their surprise, that co-workers resent them because of the special nature and flexibility built into most internships. After all, your co-workers are not allowed to interview the Vice President or attend board meetings, as you might be able to do. It is your supervisor’s responsibility to explain your role to fellow employees, but you can help by being sensitive to this issue and sticking to the role of "regular" employee as much as possible. Also, be curious. Co-workers may enjoy having interns around as new folks to talk to and as people with new, f
resh perspectives on the workplace. Conversation and open exchange is your best route to good relationships with other members of the staff. Avoid petty internal struggles and do not yield to pressure to take sides when it is inappropriate, which it usually will be.
Overtime: The working world doesn’t stop every day at 5:00 P.M. and you might be asked, or simply feel pressure, to work late or on weekends. This is another tricky issue which you will have to resolve yourself. Working extra hours may help you learn more from your internship by experiencing roles or situations not otherwise available. Your commitment to your supervisor, your project, and/or the organization may demand that you put in the extra work. However, on the other hand, you are an independent person just like any other employee and have to make a judgement about when enough is enough. Everyone has a personal life and relationships to maintain. As an intern in a new setting, part of your learning, understandably, should come from living in and exploring this new environment. So if you find yourself confused about work hours and time, talk to your supervisor and negotiate a solution that takes into account your needs and those of the organization. This is a crucial work skill and you might as well start learning it right now.
Communication: You are a member of a project team and you begin to feel as though your ideas don’t count, aren’t good enough, or are ignored. This may be true and, thus, require action. On the other hand, you may not be letting people know what you have to offer. Before you get upset, examine your participation and be sure that you have really communicated your thoughts. If you are having trouble doing this, find an "ally" in the office and ask for help!
Discrimination: If you feel you are truly being discriminated against because of age, sex, or race, you will also have to check this out with the people involved. Don’t over-react. Remember, it is possible that people feel threatened by you just as you feel threatened by them. Make sure to consider the situation from all angles before you consult your supervisor. But don’t let these problems fester. If you have decided the problem is real, deal with it quickly. You are only there for a semester or a summer and you don’t want to waste time.
Sexual Harassment: You are being sexually harassed on the job. Use tact in dealing with an "overly friendly" boss or co-worker. You should inform the person immediately and politely about behavior you find offensive. Optimistically, the situation could resolve itself. Realistically, it will remain a problem unless you take action to resolve it. Ask for help from co-workers if you feel you need it.
Most of you will not run into these particular problems, but a few of you may and you should not be surprised if you do. These are typical "real-world" problems and learning to deal with them is why you are in the internship.
A positive frame of mind is your best support. You are not an expert, but you are a capable individual. Remember that. Be sure of yourself and stay that way. Setbacks and disappointments will come, but, remembering who you are, you will be in a better position to handle them when they arise. Keep them in perspective and don’t consider them to be a personal condemnation of your abilities because they are not necessarily related to you or your actions at all. They are simply there and part of the game.
Adapted from The Experienced Hand: A Student Manual for Making the Most of an Internship by Timothy Stanton and Kamil Ali, Carroll Press.