It’s intern season! This means that right now the Internet is flooded with advice on how to have the Best Internship Ever, because it's essentially become the new entry-level job. Here’s the problem: All that advice sucks. Those pieces are written by people who sit lofty and high above you. They've lost perspective. Only the people on your level can tell how terrible of an intern you actually are.
We are those people! Or at least, we were those people, very recently. We were not interns as long ago as your boss, who, let's face it, doesn't know what he or she wants half the time until you tell them. Right now, we'll be honest – and we might not be when we're working with you, so here's your chance to hear what we're thinking.
You should know your place.
Getting accepted into a well-known company as an intern does not mean you are the shit. Even if you think you are qualified for or deserve a higher position, change your mindset: You’re incredibly fortunate to have an opportunity that not that many people have. Interning has become akin to breathing in the career world, so breathe very deeply but don’t do that kind of rattle-y nostril-y breathing that makes people not want to sit next to you. (That goes for quietly humming or any other type of murmuring, too. Don’t do that.)
Be cool while desperately wanting this.
On the other hand, this is a job. One day, you could be doing this for real and it will be better than school because you won’t be paying for it, you’ll be getting paid to do it. So treat it like a job. This means even the worst days are the best days because it’s super awesome that this is your chosen field (or it is for now) and you are in it. The worst interns are those people that act like they’re either too good for the place or aren’t even interested in being there. Go home. You’re wasting our boss’ time that, let’s be honest, he or she could be spending paying attention to us.
You should also know your place of employment.
This may seem obvious. You applied to this place, right? You love reading it, you love looking at it, you love the way it smells. So you feel like you know it. But when that dude walks by who you’re not working with directly but happens to share the same physical building space as you, you need to know who that person is – or figure it out. Learn the names of everyone in the building or newsroom or office you work in. And you’ve got to read anything and everything that has been written about your company. You should always be listening. Be that little pitcher with the big ears that your mom always talked about scoffingly. Mom was training you to be her little star intern. No email should come as a surprise.
You should be everywhere, yet nowhere.
Go to happy hour, but always leave first. Even if you have no plans, repeat as follows: Have one drink, enjoy one very happy hour, and then go home. Say you have dinner or a TV show to watch. Lie. Leave. You made an appearance and talked to a certain number of people and showed that you’re the kind of person that they could foreseeably spend more time with than their family but you didn’t get super drunk and embarrass yourself. You’re building a mystery.
You should gossip. A little.
Gossip bonds people to each other. Just don’t do too much. Or to the wrong people. Your chatter should always come from a place of inquisitive curiosity, and should be directed to people you wholly and completely trust. (So timeline for gossip probably comes during the mid-to-later part of your internship.) You’re just curious about whether or not those two are dating, because someone mentioned that they were. You’re just curious about this person that just got fired. You’re not relishing either of these bits of information except inside your cold heart. You don’t EVER want to be known as that gossipy intern, but you certainly don’t wanna miss all the info because of that thing people say about knowledge being powerful.
You should dress to blend in.
If you think for one second the skirt might be too short, it is. Even if you have fantastic legs and love wearing short things and can truly pull it off, just don’t. If you think your Nickelback shirt is a good thing to wear to the office, these rules won't even begin to help you unless you work at some super-cool company that gets that you’re being ironic. That whole like “dress for the job you want” thing is totally bogus. We judge the interns that wear summer dresses when they have corporate meetings to attend, but we also judge the people wearing a suit when they work at a tech startup. Dress the way you would if you were there every day for the rest of time and maybe they’ll just get used to your face and generally appearance and keep you around just because they forgot that you weren’t supposed to be there.
You shouldn’t think things are just going to happen for you.
That meeting that you want to have with your boss about how great you are and how you should be hired, or that one we’re you’re just checking in to see how he or she thinks the internship is going or whatever you called the meeting about is not going to happen unless you schedule it. Don’t do it on your last day. Do it ahead of time. Go into it knowing your baseline and your backboard (we didn’t have sports internships but we think those are the right terms). Do you want a full time job? Would you accept just a recommendation? Know the range, and spin it entirely as “I love working here and I think it would be sad to see x, y and z that I’ve been working on drop by the wayside and let all that progress go.” Or “I’ve loved working here and this is what I’d like to do next and could you help me with that by doing x y or z.” No one wants to get in the way of progress. You are the future of America and you’re sitting right in front of them. It’s even better if you have preliminary casual conversations about what you want and then bring it up later in a more serious sit-down way so it’s not coming out of left field. This conversation is not going to happen unless you make it happen; no one cares about your future like you do.
This continues when the internship is over. You should periodically follow-up with whoever you worked with. Make sure they know what’s up with you. Ask them for things in a nice way. Contrary to popular belief, people like helping people when that person isn’t the worst. Also contrary to seemingly popular belief, interns don’t just get jobs right away: They kick ass at their internship and then they follow up and make things happen for themselves.
You should be the best.
There is no room to be less than the best they’ve ever seen. You can be friends with your fellow interns but you should always work to be better than or equally as good as them. [You’re not here to make friends.] But honestly, it’s easiest to be friends with someone who is as talented as you but wants to do something a little different so you’re not competing for the same job. That way you have a friend and are building connections in your field but aren’t stressed out about confiding in them.
Important: Don’t be friends with the guy who is lazy and does nothing and then complains about how much the internship sucks. He sucks.
*We’re not even going to mention how you shouldn’t sleep with anyone from the office because you know you shouldn’t. Though if you do, it’ll give us something to gossip about so maybe go right ahead.
Lauren Chooljian has been an intern approximately six times; Kate Dries has been an intern approximately seven times. They met as interns. And yes, that over there on the left is a picture of them with Neville Longbottom.