Summer internship cheat sheet

At long last, your internship is finally here. You’re focused. Prepared. Willing to do what’s necessary to not only fit in, but stand out.

Maybe you’ll even exceed expectations. Perhaps one of your ideas changes the company, the industry … heck, the world. Anything is possible.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Dreaming big is fine, provided you don’t let those dreams get in the way of completing your actual assignments. Another thing: not everyone in the workplace is going to love your ideas, and that is OK too.

Here are a few dos and don’ts, along with a few “definitely dos,” as you take on your internship.


Expect the unexpected: The office IT department is a busy place. Bring a laptop with you just in case your assigned device wasn’t actually assigned. It happens.

Prepare your attire the night before to make sure everything is ready to go – dress like the people you’ve met during the interview process. In the morning, leave for work twice as early as you think you need to. Showing up late and sweating is no way to start.

Also, always bring a pen and notepad with you just in case.

Be present: When meditation coaches talk about being present, they mean your brain and your rear-end being in the same place at the same time. It works the same way in business meetings and brainstorming sessions.

Be on time, if not early, and most importantly be alert and engaged. Get your head out of your smartphone. Show interest and ask questions, but don’t try to answer any before you understand. Let your actions do your talking.

Be gracious/humble: This is your chance to learn what you like or don’t like about the organization you’re working with, or the industry they play in. That’s what the internship experience is all about.

Strive to see the positive in everything, even if the full-time employees you work with say otherwise. You also want your supervisor to feel like they were successful in identifying you as a good prospect, so be appreciative of any duties given to you along the way.


Be high maintenance: In today’s world of lean organizations, even executives perform administrative tasks. Don’t act like that type of work is beneath you or “not what you signed up for.” That kind of attitude will alienate you from the admins and the execs. It’s certainly not a good look.

Talk behind backs: Bringing religion and politics into the office are well-established no-nos. Gossiping about your co-workers comes in as a very close third.

There’s an old rule about people who talk behind other people’s back: they’re probably doing the same thing to you. Your supervisor may do it. Your closest work friends may do it. That doesn’t mean you should.

Plus, you can guarantee it will almost always get back to someone. Do yourself a favor and don’t go there.

Post about your job: Most workplaces have a sanctioned social media account. Feel free to share what others are. But certainly, be careful about what you share.

Check the employee guide, which definitely applies to you, to understand what the company considers acceptable information to share. Clients consider the work you do for them confidential, and so should you. Even if someone else is doing it, don’t risk ending up in hot water.

Definitely dos

Give it your best: Treat every assignment as important and give it your best. What you do with little things shows management how you will perform and respect more important/larger assignments.

The kiss of death is to ask, “When will I get more important things to do?” “What do I have to do to get an important project?”

These statements are actually you giving your worst.

Communicate: After an assignment is successfully completed, don’t rest. Ask what you could have done better, then ask for your next assignment.

Check in often. Don’t sit back and expect someone to find you. And no matter what you read about work/life suggestions, always be accessible.

Work happens after 5 pm and on weekends. Don’t disappear during the day, check in in the morning, at lunch and before you leave in the evening.

If you’re going to be late use two methods of communication. Give advanced notice if you have a doctor’s appointment (it’s a lot healthier for your career).

Ask for an exit interview: A well-run intern program will usually have an exit interview built in at the end. If that’s the case, ask your supervisor for one.

This final sit-down, for you, is all about keeping connections you made and advancing them forward. You’re also building connections for the future, whether for a “when you graduate” job offer, or as a reference for another internship.

Thank you notes: Who writes anymore? Who takes the time to write something meaningful on stationery, addressed by hand, with postage?  Share your thanks electronically, of course, but follow up with a more detailed, mailed message. Keep it simple.


Single out something you learned from them that you’ll take with you. (Not just an assignment, but something that made this person’s influence memorable.) Never underestimate the value of a handwritten note of thanks.

 Joanie Courtney is chief workforce analyst at EmployBridge.