You are about to start your first internship, co-op or training job. Perhaps you need actual hands-on work experience in order to meet the requirements for graduation or you are working on gaining experience to improve your chances of employment upon graduation. The skills, experience and knowledge you gain from an employer willing to take you on before you’ve graduated will be valuable.
Take it from someone who has seen many students go through a wide range of companies and industries in a wide range of positions. There are some unwritten rules that employers never tell you, but you really need to know. Some may seem obvious, some may be surprising. They are here to provide some help and insight and hopefully some humor.
1. You are new. You are green. You have no actual work experience. You do NOT have all the answers to all the questions and no one expects you to. So, jumping into the middle of a conversation with how you would solve the problem will most likely end poorly. The odds are you do not have all the information nor can you see the big picture. So while your solution to whatever the problem is may sound brilliant to you…it may be totally destructive to the company, project or product you are working on at the time. You don’t know what you don’t know and that can be dangerous.
If you are asked specifically for your input on a discussion, by all means provide it. This is your opportunity to shine. Speak clearly, concisely and understand that this is your opinion based on what you know about the question/issue/problem to be solved. But don’t take it personally if it’s not the actual solution the company goes with in the end.
2. This is a job. Dress accordingly. Showing up to an interview or your first day dressed in anything less than business casual is an insult to the company. Of course, if you are fortunate enough to work for a company that wears jeans and t-shirts most of the time, feel free to blend in (within reason). However, under no circumstances should your t-shirt have an opinion of any kind printed on it and definitely nothing risqué.
For females, do not dress like a little girl or a hooker. There are many TV programs showing women dressed in short skirts with low cut blouses that are not actually something a true business professional would wear to work.
You want to be taken seriously, you want people to respect you and listen to you when you speak and value your opinion and technical skills, so try to stay neutral. You don’t want the main focus to be what you are wearing.
3. Opinions in general can be dangerous. Do not discuss politics, religion or any other topic that may be viewed as controversial. The safest thing is not to discuss anything other than work. Possibly puppies and kittens…but definitely not controversial subjects.
4. If you are assigned something to do. DO IT to the best of your ability. Ask for further information, clarification or whatever you need in order for you to do the work yourself; however, do not attempt to assign it to some other intern or employee. I’ve seen this happen first hand. You were not hired to delegate work. You were hired to help out and to learn.
5. Do not make faces, roll your eyes, sigh, swear, or indicate in any way that you feel the assignment is beneath you. It’s tempting to let it out if you feel that making copies or filing or running an errand is really not why you are there. And while it’s not going to help you learn about your specific field of study, it is going to teach you humility, team work and will give you a glimpse into what it’s really like to work for a company. Doing whatever needs to be done, whenever it needs to be done and being someone who can be counted on to pitch in, help out and in general has a positive attitude, will make you a better employee in any field, doing any type of work.
6. Salary. Assuming you are paid for your internship, do not discuss your salary with anyone in the company except for your direct supervisor and/or whoever is designated as the contact person for payroll. If you have questions, talk with only the appropriate person.
Brace yourself: There will be taxes withheld. Yes, most people know this; however, I’ve seen at least one intern start screaming that no one has the right to take money out of his pay check. If someone has to call your Mother to calm you down, you won’t be working for this company when you graduate and any credibility you’ve established up to this point is now gone.
7. Do your best to get along with everyone in the company, no matter what department they are in or what position they hold. This is great practice for your future. Cross-departmental collaboration and teamwork are more than just a bunch of buzz worlds. Being able to work with everyone is vitally important to your career.
8. Many companies have what is referred to as an “open door policy” – meaning if you want to talk to someone, you’re free to come in and do so. Even the most casual companies, would still expect you to knock on the door first or politely ask if this is a good time BEFORE launching into whatever you wanted to talk about.
9. This really should go without saying but if you report to someone and go over his or her head, behind his or her back or in any way communicate with someone they report to and leave them out, it will not be viewed favorably. As a concept an open door policy is a good idea, however in practice you still need to respect the hierarchy and your direct supervisor. The only acceptable time you can get away with bypassing your direct supervisor is if you’re being harassed and need to report it to human resources or someone higher up the management ladder. Follow the rules of the company if you have this happen to you.
10. Traveling on Company Business or Business Meals – just because you can, do not order the most expensive thing on the menu. Don’t over eat. Don’t drink alcohol. Yes, that’s what I said…don’t drink. Or at least if you are in a social situation and do drink, do not, under any circumstances get drunk. I could write an entire book on how alcohol has destroyed a career.
There are many other unwritten rules, but these are the ones that seem to cause the most problems and while it is assumed everyone knows these things…well, there’s a saying about assuming too.