Posted tagged ‘internship questions’

Q. It’s been too hot to wear a lot of clothing to work, but my internship supervisor said I’m not dressing professionally. What should I do?

July 26, 2010

A. You’re right about the weather. This summer is the hottest one in recorded US weather history. However, you’re wrong about your wardrobe. You might want to under dress to survive the heat, but you won’t win any points at your internship, according to a recent article: “From booty shorts to belly shirts, some intern fashions make companies cringe,” in The Baltimore Sun newspaper. The article made the following points: 

  1. In Washington, DC, the term “skinterns” has evolved for the scantily-clad summer staff.  Remember Monica Lewinsky, President Clinton’s compromised intern?  Your own reputation may suffer or staffers may start calling you “Monica” if you refuse to wear an accepted intern uniform, such as a white blouse and dark slacks or skirt and closed shoes.
  2. Other unprofessional clothing includes booty shorts, thigh-grazing dresses, flip-flops, ripped jeans, cleavage-baring tops, see-through skirts…If necessary, you could wear such items on the way to work, but make sure that you take proper clothing with you and change into your professional outfit before you enter the office.
  3. The Sun article reminds interns that students may incorrectly think that being “dressed up” for work means being in their best, night-on-the-town outfits. But leave your bar clothes at home because employers first judge you by your appearance. You may meet clients and customers, and your appearance reflects the company’s image. Career experts urge you to err on the conservative side.
  4. Thank your internship supervisor for taking the time to discuss your appearance. Then, ask for some tips on the dress code, so you can conform to company standards. Your gracious acceptance of constructive criticism may earn you some points with your supervisor. And make sure to follow through immediately. Also, check with your school’s career center to see if they offer a course in business etiquette, so you’re better prepared for the next internship.

Q. I’m only going to be a freshman. Should I start thinking about internships?

July 19, 2010

A. Yes, it’s not too early. Lots of students in high school are now thinking about internships to strengthen their college applications, resulting in the field becoming more and more competitive. If you start with an internship during or after your freshman year, you’ll be able to build up to better and better internships by the time you reach your senior year, which will strengthen your graduate school or job applications. Here are a few tips on how to proceed:

  1. Transition:  Your first semester is going to be a period of transition. You should visit the career center on campus and explore your future internship opportunities. The fall semester is not as busy as the spring one at the career center in terms of internships, so it’s the perfect time to get to know the staff and register your interests. Then, when an internship in your field comes up, you’ll be first in line to apply. Use this time to network with older students about their internships and get tips from them on good internship sites.
  2. Type:  Like many freshmen, you may be uncertain about your major. And what better way to discover your talents but through an internship. Ask the career center to administer some assessment tests to help you figure out what types of internships are best for you and take the Internship Predictor on internships.com Also, consider the company in which you’d like the experience. If you see yourself as working for a big corporation, investigate those options. Or you may prefer a small company or a non-profit for a first internship, especially since it may be easier to get an internship in those organizations.
  3. Timing:  In the spring, you might look into a virtual internship that you can perform at your computer without leaving your room. Or you could explore the options for the coming summer. Review your budget to see if you can afford to take an unpaid internship or if you have to get a paid one. Meanwhile, revise your resume and create a general cover letter that you can customize for different internships. The career center can help you with those items. And educate yourself about all the new internships available by checking daily on internships.com.
  4. Details:  Check to see how many college credits you are allowed in the internship category. If you’re limited, you might want to simply take a summer job for pay or perform volunteer work, saving your internship credits for later in your college career. Talk with family and friends about potential locations of future internships. Do you want to do one in another country? If so, do you need to start learning a second language? Or is there a part of the United States that you think you might enjoy living in after college? An internship would help you decide if you really want to move to that area.

Q. Whom should I ask for a reference and when?

July 12, 2010

A. References are important! The letters validate and document your hard work as an intern. You’ll want at least one reference letter as well as verbal agreements to give their names and numbers as contact people for future references on internships or jobs. The sooner you get started on the reference process the better. Here’s how to proceed:

  1. Meet with your supervisor. Make an appointment with your intern supervisor. Be sure to thank your intern supervisor for the guidance you received during your internship. Then, ask him/her to write you a general reference letter that you could use to get future internships or employment. If you have a specific position in mind, you may want to ask the intern supervisor to write you a reference for that posting. If graduate school is in your future, you may like to have a reference letter geared for the Admissions Committee at that school. Request permission to use your supervisor as a general reference, finding out the proper contact information for future use.
  2. Consider other appropriate references. Draw up a list of any other people at your internship who could be good resources for references, such as the team leader if you worked as part of a team, or different department heads if you moved from department to department. You may have found a mentor or advisor who informally helped you—he or she may be willing to write a reference letter for you, too. Sometimes, the human resources or personnel department can be called upon to provide a reference letter for you. You can never have too many reference letters.
  3. Consider timing. Consider when you should request reference letters. To make sure that you receive them before you leave the internship, start making your requests about two weeks before your internship ends, giving people enough time to write good letters. At the beginning of your last week, check in to see if anyone has completed his/her letter. Thank everyone in advance for taking the time to write you a reference letter. Mention the date of your last day and that you’ll be back to pick up the letter that day if not before. If you’re feeling uncertain about getting the letters, call your school career center counselor and ask for advice on speeding up the process. Your counselor may have already requested reference letters for you.

Q. My internship is wrapping up. Whom should I thank and how?

July 9, 2010

A. You’re right to start thinking about thanking people as your internship is coming to a close. You can never say “Thank you” too many times or to too many people. Here are a few points to ponder:

  1. Who to thank:  The first thank-you goes to your internship supervisor. Other people who might be on your thank-you list could include co-workers, department heads, volunteer staff, Human Resources, your Career Center counselor or staff members, and any individual who went beyond the call of duty in helping you. For example, the parking lot attendant who made sure you had a convenient parking space or the newsletter editor who interviewed you for a complimentary article in the company publication. You could consider writing a thank-you to the company president, mentioning how much you appreciated your supervisor’s excellent guidance. It’s a wise move to get your name in front of as many people as possible. And your supervisor will remember you kindly for putting in a good word for him/her.
  2. How to express thanks:  You have many options here, depending on the corporate culture and your own style. A hand-written note is always safe. Do choose simple note cards in white or pastel shades. Double check employee titles, so you don’t make any embarrassing errors in addressing the letters, which should always be sent to the office address. However, if you feel more comfortable producing your thank-you notes on a computer, select an informal type face and sign the letter with an ink pen. Use a good cotton or linen stock with matching envelopes rather than standard copy paper. To eliminate the possibility of jealousy, compose all your letters on the same stationery, so you won’t be showing favoritism.
  3. How not to express thanks:  An email thank-you might be fine to a friend for cooking a delicious dinner, but it’s not a professional statement. Please don’t buy cards with pre-printed thank-you messages inside and then just sign your name. It’s much more meaningful to write a personal message yourself, naming specific ways in which that person helped you. You may not have much time to write thank-you notes but do refrain from sending general thank-you letters addressed to “To Whom It May Concern,” or “Hi Everyone,” or “Hey Guys.”  Don’t wait too long to express thanks—try to finish your thank-you notes and distribute them by your last day, saving postage and ensuring that they reach the right person.
  4. Other ways to say thanks:  You could bring home-made cookies or pick up donuts or a special snack for your office mates on your last day. If your supervisor has been exceptional, you may want to offer to take him/her to lunch on your last day or after your internship ends as a way to stay in touch. If you wanted to do something special for your supervisor, you could buy him/her a book, a coffee mug from your school, or a small gift. However, keep the cost to a minimum.

Q. How do I evaluate what I learned at my internship?

July 2, 2010

A. Good for you for wanting to make sure that you had a successful learning experience at your internship! Your internship supervisor and your Career Center will probably offer you assessments, but you also want to perform a self-assessment. Here are a few ways to measure the growth of your learning curve:

  1. Review your goals and expectations as listed in your pre-internship or first-day documents. Check off the ones that you’ve met. Examine the assignments that you’ve completed and note the new skills that you’ve developed. Assess your internship supervisor’s final evaluation report and write down the positive comments in terms of your work ethic and attitude.
  2. Compare your confidence level and self-esteem after the internship as to before your internship. You should not only feel better about yourself but also feel better prepared for your prospective career. You may find that you’ve gained new knowledge that you can turn into a class paper or use to improve your academic standing. If your school gives grades for an internship and you’ve earned an A, then you’ve raised your grade point average, another sign of your success.
  3. Collect all the items—reports, projects, documents etc.—on which you worked and include them in your portfolio. Write up a paragraph on each, explaining the challenge and how you performed in each instance. You’ll be surprised and pleased at what you find.
  4. Count the number of new contacts made during your internship, ranging from your internship supervisor to other interns and to company personnel in various departments. These people will serve as valuable resources when you start networking for future internships or jobs. You’ve probably also developed improved relations with your Career Center staff, which will be helpful in reaching career goals.
  5. Study your resume before and after your internship. You’ll find that you now have additional entries to strengthen your resume, including new work experiences and achievements as well as software or technology skills. Be sure to detail your assignments and accomplishments, adding value to your resume. When you’ve completed all the above self-assessments, you may want to go out and get another internship, inspired to learn even more. 

 

Q. How do I document my internship experience so I can show my value to future managers and employers?

June 21, 2010

A. It’s a smart idea to have documentation of each internship to support your resume and improve your portfolio. Though you might develop a list of references from your internships, that list could be compromised as people change jobs and contact information. Having your documentation in hand when you leave your internship ensures that you have ready proof of performance. Here’s how to get that documentation:

  1. Final evaluation form: Ask your intern supervisor to fill out your final evaluation form, which is usually provided by your school. Some schools request weekly performance reports that can also document your experience.
  2. Letter of recommendation: Ask your intern supervisor for a letter of recommendation on company letterhead. This is a normal request and your supervisor probably has experience writing recommendations. Be sure to write a thank you note to your supervisor—leaving him/her with a good impression.
  3. Recommendations from colleagues: Consider asking other company employees with whom you’ve worked closely to write a recommendation for you. If you’ve been part of a team, ask the team leader to write a recommendation for you. Or, if you’ve worked in different departments, ask the various department heads to write recommendations for you.
  4. Internship journal: Keep copies of your own weekly reports on duties performed, so you can document your own assignments. Collect brochures or annual reports about the company to accompany your reports, especially if it is a small organization that future internship managers or employers won’t recognize. Such attention to detail is certain to help you get future offers.

Q. I can tell my boss isn’t happy with my performance. How do I start an honest conversation about expectations?

June 18, 2010

A. Before you start the conversation, create a game plan to ensure that the meeting is successful and accomplishes your goals. Your proactive approach is admirable. You may be helping your boss start a sensitive conversation that he/she has been postponing. Here are a few tips for a meaningful meeting:

  1. Set up an appointment at a time that is convenient for your boss and estimate how long you think the meeting will take, so he/she can be available. Prepare an agenda that covers your crucial concerns.
  2. Phrase your points with questions, making it easier for your boss to respond. For example, “In what areas do you think I need to improve?” or “Do you have any suggestions on how I can meet company expectations?” Keep your questions to a limited number, such as six. 
  3. Present the agenda to your boss before the meeting, ensuring that he/she has time to reflect on the questions and deliver helpful answers. At the meeting, make sure you have a notebook and write down the answers as a sign of your commitment to change.
  4. Listen respectfully to what your boss says. Refrain from interrupting or from giving long excuses as to why you haven’t met expectations. Your boss wants to clear up miscommunications and help you meet expectations as much as you do. Both you and your boss want the internship to add value to the company.
  5. Keep in mind that an honest conversation is a good goal. But “honest” means in a proactive way that will yield positive results. For example, honesty doesn’t extend to telling the boss that you don’t like your co-workers or that your office is too small, which is why you aren’t meeting expectations.
  6. Use diplomacy. The meeting is a tool for you to improve your situation, not to bring up negative issues that may be irresolvable. Before the meeting is over, ask your boss to help you create revised expectations, so you have a new method to assess your performance.

Q. I’m having trouble meeting people. How do I start networking?

June 4, 2010

A. Starting an internship at a company where you don’t know anyone can be tough. You’re used to a routine at school, and having friends and classmates around to study and socialize with. Don’t worry! You’ll fall into a routine at your internship just like you do at school each semester, and here are some networking tips—soon you’ll be meeting a ton of new people and maybe even making some new friends.

  1. Act friendly. Put a smile on your face and say hello to other employees in your department and building. If someone doesn’t respond in an enthusiastic manner, don’t take it personally. You never know what might be going on—lots of things can cause a bad mood and it probably has nothing to do with you. Actually, your pleasant greeting might cheer him/her up.
  2. Ask questions. The best way to start a conversation is to ask the other person about himself/herself. Good questions include:  “How long have you worked here?” “Any suggestions for a good place to grab lunch?” “Did you catch last night’s game?” Weather questions are always appropriate. And it’s fine to ask about family pictures that are on a co-worker’s desk.
  3. Develop conversations. Now that you’ve established yourself as a friendly, outgoing person who is interested in your co-workers, you’re ready to take the next step—keeping a two-way conversation going. Try joining different groups for lunch but always ask first before simply sitting down. Introduce national news topics or local subjects and ask for other opinions. Then, give your viewpoint. However, don’t get into an argument if your views differ. Keep it light and people will find that you’re stimulating company, engage in conversation easily, and are enjoyable to be around.
  4. Network with new friends. By now, you’ve found a few people—in your department, at the company fitness center, or in the cafeteria—whose company you enjoy. Continue to develop those friendships and professional relationships because each new friend could lead to another acquaintance, and then another. Before you know it, you’ve built a good network.
  5. Set networking goals. You started off at your internship in an environment with total strangers. Draw up a list of people you know now and list their departments. Try to add to that list every day. Of course, your first responsibility is to your internship assignment and team members, so make sure your performance exceeds expectations. Your teammates may turn out to be your new best friends.

Q. I’m not very challenged at my internship. How do I discuss this with my boss?

June 2, 2010

A. Your boss will appreciate your honesty and will identify you as a rising star. Your interest in taking on more responsibility will generate better assignments plus you’ll learn more new skills. And when you finish your internship, you’re sure to receive rave recommendations. Here’s how to ask for more challenges at your internship:

  1. Make sure you’ve done a great job on the assignments that you’ve completed. Can you document that you’ve finished all your responsibilities ahead of time and exceeded expectations? Your ability to demonstrate why you should have more challenges impresses your boss. He/she will know you take your internship seriously and want to add value to the company. (For tips on prioritizing your work, check out “Tracey’s Angle” for an intern’s perspective.)
  2. Be careful not to belittle any efforts by other interns or even co-workers who may be performing the same tasks as you. Choose your language carefully when your boss asks why you want more responsibility. Instead of using words like “boring,” or “repetitive” to describe your dissatisfaction with your assignments, explain that you want to do more to develop your skills and to help the company reach its goals. You may even add that you’re willing to continue your original assignments but want more challenging work in the company, even if it means working longer hours.
  3. Do some research before you approach your boss. In other words, be careful what you ask for because you might get it. You can ensure that your new tasks will be ones that you’ll enjoy if you have participated in selecting them. Also, you’ll be much more successful if you pick fresh challenges that showcase your talents. If you’re excellent at research, ask if you can work on a research project. If you’re a computer whiz, suggest an assignment in that area. Prepare a brief report, outlining potential new challenges along with goals and timelines. How can your boss say no?

Q. I’m stressed out about starting my first internship. How do I transition from student to professional intern?

May 4, 2010

A.  It’s natural to feel stress at times of change, even positive change, which includes starting an internship. You’re entering a new world, and you want to make a good impression. The Career Center at your school may have helpful information online or in printed guides to help you prepare for your internship. Check the Career Center calendar for any pre-internship training classes. You can take the Intern Certification Program on internships.com to sharpen your professional skills and boost your confidence. Or if you’re already “iCertified,” you should review the material again. Here are some tips to help you transition from student to professional intern:

  1. Start with the “outer you.” If you look good, you feel better about yourself. And your ability to manage new tasks improves.  Is it time for a new look? Study business publications (like Inc. or the Wall Street Journal) or industry specific publications related to your internship field, or go to the website of the company where you’re doing your internship to see if you can determine the preferred style and dress code.  
  2. Consider the “inner you.” Does your stomach flip-flop when you picture yourself walking into your internship on the first day? Try taking deep breaths to settle your nerves ahead of time. Build a positive attitude by reassuring yourself that you wouldn’t have been chosen if the company didn’t believe in you. Does your heart race when you think about meeting lots of new people?  Maintain a calm exterior by extending a firm handshake and by smiling at your new co-workers. Remind yourself that these people expect to like you. You bring added value to the company.
  3. Establish your new routine. It can help if a week before your internship starts, you maintain the same daily schedule that you’ll have during your internship. As a student, you may have stayed up late and slept in if you didn’t have any morning classes. As a professional intern, you’ll probably go to bed early in order to get up early and get to your internship on time (or even early). Try to get eight hours of sleep to ensure that your energy level is high. If you had an exercise routine as a student, integrate that routine into your new schedule even if it’s going to the gym at night instead. Physical activity relieves stress.
  4. Choose a friend that you trust and can confide in when you’re feeling stressed at your internship. You’ll probably need a good listener during the first week until you develop a comfort level at your internship. A friend who is interning at another company or who has completed an internship would understand your feelings, offer support, and honor your confidence. Don’t let stress build up either before or during your internship. You may find that reducing caffeine in your diet could also reduce stress. Experiment on what works best for you.

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