Archive for May 2010

Q. When is it appropriate to start networking outside my department?

May 28, 2010

A. The short answer is when your intern supervisor or department head says so. The long answer gives you more leeway to build your network on your own timetable and in your own style. Here are some points to ponder:

  1. After your first week has successfully passed, ask your intern supervisor about the best way to meet people in other departments. Explain that you’d like to have a better understanding of how the business works as a whole. In response the intern supervisor may escort you around to the other departments, introducing you to various members, who might offer to discuss their work with you.
  2. When you’re sure that your department head likes your work, follow up by asking him/her if it’s permissible to visit other departments to learn what they do, especially departments that interface with yours. Then, the department head may take you to other departments and ask them to spend some time with you, so you can learn more about the operation.
  3. If your department holds daily or weekly meetings, ask if you can attend. Or if your department head and intern supervisor belong to professional meetings that welcome students, ask if you can go to a meeting with them. Be prepared to pay for lunch though most department heads or intern supervisors will pick up the tab. Professional meetings are great places to network for future internships.
  4. Another way to stimulate networking outside of your department is to develop a school assignment that requires you to interview employees in different departments. If you’re earning academic credit, you may indeed have to produce a paper researching some aspect of the company. If you’re not getting credit, you may still have an upcoming course that would benefit from a report based on the company. Professionals are usually glad to help students because they remember their own student days and class assignments.
  5. Other places to network informally outside of your department are at coffee breaks, in the cafeteria or fitness center, and at social events. Thanks to most companies issuing ID badges with employee names and departments, you can quickly scan ID badges and learn enough to start up a conversation. Some interns make it a practice to sit at different lunch tables every day in order to meet more co-workers. Be sure to attend any social events at your internship, getting to know as many people as possible. And, you can also volunteer for one of the non-profit causes sponsored by your company. You may find yourself dishing out food in a soup kitchen beside the company president. Now that’s networking!

Q. I’m serving a lot of coffee at my internship, but I’m ready for more responsibility. How do I tell them?

May 25, 2010

A. That’s a tricky question and the answer depends on many variables. Before you say no to coffee running, let’s examine the various scenarios: 

  1. Reread the description of your internship, checking carefully to see if running errands, such as getting coffee, is included. If not, you have the grounds (sorry about the pun) to ask your intern supervisor if that’s one of your legitimate duties. He or she may be unaware that you’re getting coffee and can arrange to have you reassigned to more responsible duties. At the very least, your intern supervisor can advise you on the office dynamics, which could mean that you’ll continue to get coffee.
  2. Use coffee as a networking tool if you’re being asked to get coffee or tea. It’s a good opportunity to get to know your co-workers and build professional relationships that will translate into help when you’re working on more important duties or need assistance with office technology. Someone has to get the coffee and if you’re the most junior person in the office, you’ll probably be given the task. So you might as well smile and be pleasant and get to know who likes cream and sugar. You might find it an opportune moment to start a conversation with a staffer since many people like to chat over their coffee. You could find yourself asked to participate in a meaningful project as a result.
  3. Consider the differences if your internship is paid or unpaid. If it’s paid, you probably don’t have a very strong case for refusing to get coffee unless your work description says so. Even full-time employees get coffee. Rather than finding the duty demeaning or discriminatory, consider it your rite of initiation into the office community. It can also be a test to see how you fit in to the team environment. All businesses and jobs have menial aspects that affect everyone. The famous chef, Thomas Keller of The French Laundry and Per Se, has been known to clean dishes when the dish room is backed up. 
  4. Research alternatives to getting coffee. Find out if there’s a coffee self-service company or a coffee delivery option in the neighborhood. Look for a new high tech coffee machine that would be enjoyable to use, ensuring that co-workers would want to go get their own coffee. An improved coffee delivery system might improve office morale and be a status symbol for the administration. Present your report to your intern supervisor, who will decide how to process it. If you still end up getting coffee, make it fun for everyone. You could give an impromptu weather, sports or news report, or quote for the day along with the coffee. Your co-workers will like you and may choose you to work on their team someday.

Q. How do I tell my new boss that I don’t understand my project or that I need help?

May 21, 2010

A. You’re not alone. Even full-time employees often encounter the same problem. Whether it’s a regular job or an internship, a challenging experience will teach you new skills. Understandably, however, you feel uncomfortable admitting that you don’t know how to do your project or that you need help. Try the following tips to solve your problem:

  1. Most projects are team efforts. If you have other people working on the same project, ask them for help as soon you run into trouble. Or, if you have friends or fellow interns at the company, you might want to ask them for advice.
  2. For a better understanding of your project, do some research on it. Obtain some reports or documents that detail its history, goals, timeline, personnel etc. Once you see the big picture, your part of the project will make more sense to you. You may find it helpful to sit down with the project manager and find out more about your role.
  3. If your confusion stems from a lack of certain technical skills, you may be able to develop the necessary proficiency in a short time. You could also simply be experiencing stress at performing your assignment in a large project. Feeling overwhelmed can block your ability to move forward. Try doing one small step at a time in hopes that the next step will become clear as you move forward. Consider your project a giant puzzle and place one piece at a time.
  4. If none of the above tips works, you may have to be honest with yourself and admit that this project is not for you. Then, set up a meeting with your intern manager and explain your dilemma. Emphasize that you don’t want to hold your team back, and problem solve with your manager the best way to handle the situation.
  5. This same advice applies to a situation in which you really dislike your assignment although you understand how to do it. In either case, ask your internship manager if you have any other options. Your own time is valuable and should be spent in a positive manner. It’s probably that you’ll end up with a much better review and recommendation if you like your work and perform to the best of your ability.

Q. I have so much work to do at my internship. How do I prioritize my assignments?

May 18, 2010

A. Consider yourself fortunate and take the overload as a compliment. Obviously the company believes in your ability to accomplish multiple tasks in your internship. You’ll master new skills, and time will fly when you’re busy. Some interns complain that they have nothing to do except to sit around and watch everyone work or go fetch coffee for the office staff. (See the May 7 article on “Interning When All They Ask You To Do Is File.”) Don’t panic or complain to your supervisor or other staff about your assignments. Instead, follow these tips to manage your time effectively:

  1. At the end of every day, make a list of the next day’s assignments, arranging them in order from most important to least important. If you’re not sure, ask your intern manager to help you prioritize your responsibilities.
  2. Check to see if your assignments are the same ones that were in the description for the internship. If you see lots of new additions, it’s perfectly fine to question them. Don’t feel shy about asking for advice. Remember, people like to be asked for help because it makes them feel important.
  3. After you organize your list, allot a specific amount of time to each item. Note deadlines when necessary. Make sure that you do the top items to the best of your ability. You can probably do the least important items quickly. If you run out of time to complete the list, you could shift the bottom items to the next day.
  4. Make sure to get to your internship early every day, even if it’s only 15 minutes before the rest of the office. You’ll make a great first impression, which is the lasting impression. People will automatically expect that you’ll do an excellent job since you’re so enthusiastic that you even arrive early. Then, if you don’t get everything done, it won’t be a disaster because you’ve already established yourself as a thoroughly competent person.
  5. Maintain a positive attitude even if you feel frantic about the pile of work on your desk. However, it’s acceptable to sit down and talk with the intern manager, explain the overload, and ask if some items could be deleted from the assignment list. Emphasize that your priority is to do to a really good job. But with so many assignments, your work could be compromised.
  6. Take advantage of your many assignments as a way to prove that you have multiple skills. You’ll be more valuable to the company

Q. How do I address my co-workers, mentors, and managers at my internship and what should I talk about?

May 14, 2010

A. Excellent question! First impressions are really important, and the first words out of your mouth are usually someone’s name after you’ve been introduced. Introductions usually follow the same etiquette. In general, the person who does the introducing uses both the first and last name of each individual. However, that doesn’t automatically give you permission to address the person that you just met by their first name. Here are a few tips on how to address your co-workers, mentors, and superiors and some ideas about what to talk about:

  1. Co-workers: Co-workers can include other interns, junior colleagues, secretarial or support staff, and service personnel. You can usually call them by their first names. There are some exceptions, including an older person or a person who calls you by your last name even if you’ve suggested they can call you by your first name.
  2. What to talk about with co-workers: Acceptable topics range from asking about families, weekends/vacations, hobbies, interests, work history, etc. The secret to a good conversation is to ask questions of others, rather than rambling on about yourself.
  3. Mentors: A good rule of thumb is to address each mentor by their last name, such as Mr. Jones or Miss Smith, unless that person tells you to use their first name. A mentor is like a teacher who may appreciate the sign of respect you show by using their last name.
  4. What to talk about with mentors: Ask questions about the job or the assignment. Be sure to thank the mentor for all the help and advice. Other safe subjects are the weather and sports. Unsafe subjects are money, religion, and politics.
  5. Managers: Always address managers by their last names, such as Mr. or Mrs. Bond even if they call you by your first name, unless they tell you otherwise.
  6. What to talk about with managers: The conversation will probably be brief, and could include the weather. If the company has received a large contract, new business or has made the news in a positive way, you might want to compliment your superiors on their achievements.

Q. What are the rules for interns around social networking time, personal email, and texting/personal calls?

May 10, 2010

A. There aren’t any hard and fast rules per se. The proper behavior depends on the style and culture of the company in which you intern. Most companies don’t publish an official list of rules, but you can quickly learn the “unspoken” rules by careful observation. Here are a few basic guidelines to help you when you start your internship: 

  1. If in doubt—don’t. Until you’re sure what’s acceptable, err on the side of being conservative. Start by turning off your cell phone and putting it away when you enter the office.
  2. Tempted to use your iPad to browse the Internet while you’re waiting for a meeting to start? It would be much better to engage a co-worker in a conversation and find out more about the company or your assignments. Like to check an app on your iPhone to find out the weather? Better wait until you have a break.
  3. Socializing with other employees usually takes place before work, during lunch or break-time, and after work. When a company has a social function, make sure that you go and capitalize on that time set aside for social networking.
  4. You probably have MySpace and Facebook accounts to keep connected with friends. It’s better to keep these personal accounts separate from your work life. Make sure the accounts are private, so if an office mate Googles your name, they won’t find out more about your personal life than you would like.
  5. Many interns blog about their internships. (See the Eye of the Intern  blog on A word of caution—be careful what you say or it could cost you your internship. You may have some humorous stories about what happened at work or you may want to vent about a problem in the office, but do that in person with a friend, not on your blog, where someone connected to your company might see it.

Q. What should I wear and what should I bring with me on the first day of my internship?

May 7, 2010

A. Great question for the Intern Coach, your school Career Center staff, and the Internship Manager at your internship! How to dress for your internship varies, depending on the corporate culture in your workplace. You can always ask your contact at the organization or the Internship Manager for tips about dress code and materials you should bring with you. For more suggestions can take the Intern Certification Program at Here are some general tips:

  1. Performance should represent 95% of business success, but the reality is that the split is 33% performance, 33% image, and 33% positive publicity (what people know about you). How you look is important since people draw immediate conclusions about you on first sight.
  2. Dress a bit more formally for the first day until you get a sense of the culture and style. A good rule of thumb is to avoid extremes in terms of clothing, jewelry, or scents at the start of your internship. Here are some general guidelines that may be helpful depending on your industry:
  3. Women should make sure that skirts aren’t too short, slacks aren’t too tight, and necklines aren’t too low. A stylish white shirt is always a safe choice. Wear the best shoes that you can afford and don’t wear excessively high heels.
  4. Men should wear a clean, ironed shirt, preferably white, with a conservative tie. If you wear a sport coat, go for a solid navy or one with a subtle pattern. Keep your dress shoes in great condition. Your socks should match pants and shoes. Leave your baseball cap and sneakers at home along with your pinky rings, necklaces, or bracelets.
  5. For the first day, you might want to take a backpack/computer case with you to carry items. If you’ve completed the Intern Certification Program, you’ll want to take your Internship Roadmap with you. Set up a time to sit down with your Internship Manager and discuss company expectations and goals and performance assessment, using the Internship Roadmap or similar outline as a guide.
  6. Another item in your backpack could be a journal to keep track of all your activities, so you can assess your own performance. A pad of paper and pen might be handy–to take instant notes as you meet new people. Jot down their names, so you can address them correctly the next day. Your new co-workers will be impressed by your efforts. You might want to tuck a snack bar or drink into your case for an energy boost on your busy first day.