An internship is a golden opportunity; a way to discover more about the industry you’ll be working in, and the way an organisation works. It’s also a first-class opportunity for landing a ‘real’ job if you follow the unwritten workplace rules – and give it your all.
What are these rules?
- Keep an open mind. You may have fixed ideas about how things should work, or about your industry or profession. Feel free to share those ideas, but bear in mind that you’re new to all this and there is still so much out there to learn.Be open-minded about the people you work with; your fellow interns and your team leader and employers. Don’t jump to conclusions about people just because they might not look or speak the way you do. The more you get to know them, the more you’ll find in common
- Be respectful. There’s much debate about whether respect is a right, or should be earned. There’s no right answer, but I suggest that if you treat everyone – from the tea lady to the CEO – with professional respect, you will be on your way to a happy and cooperative working environment. Is it possible to respect someone you don’t like or find difficult to work with? Yes, if you remember two things: that person might not appear likable because of some personal or professional problem you don’t know about; they will almost certainly have knowledge worth sharing – and you need that knowledge.
- Be punctual. Even if you’re struggling with some of the tasks or training, it’s still possible to create the right impression. The simplest way to do this is to be on time – for work, after lunch, for meetings or training sessions. In the same vein, don’t be the first one out of the door at 5 pm. Rather make sure that your workspace is ready for the next day and that your to-do list is up-to-date. These things get noticed.
- Listen and make notes. Don’t just assume that information is going to seep into your brain when something is being explained to you. Listen actively and jot down the main points and discuss these with your fellow interns when you have break. This is key to being professional.
- Ask questions. If you don’t understand something, don’t be afraid to ask – and ask even if you are afraid. There’s nothing scarier than living in a cloud of ignorance. Rather admit that you don’t understand and keep asking until it’s clear. (All the other interns will be grateful to you!)
- Learn the rules and follow them. These could apply to dress codes, working hours, confidentiality, use of office equipment… the list goes on. While this is your opportunity to shine as an individual, it’s also an exercise in fitting in and becoming part of the system. This can be tricky if you’re independent or rebellious by nature, but remember the end-point – this is your future we’re talking about.
Good luck – and have fun!
Shelagh Foster is the author, with Lehlohonolo Mofokeng of First Year of Varsity/College (reviewed previously on The Catalyst) and Your First Year of Work published by Bookstorm. She teaches the skills taught in these two books in countrywide workshops and discussion groups.Shelagh is also the director of the Franschhoek Literary Festival Listen to the author in this ClassicFM podcast, follow @ShelaghFoster1 on Twitter and find her on LinkedIn.