Part III of IV
Two months ago I began this four part series, 20 Ways to NOT to be #ThatIntern, in hopes to save #JournoInterns from making some of the damaging mistakes that i’ve seen over the years. I also hoped to provide a little advice for achieving success along the way and please remember this advice is in no particular order – each number is as important as the others. Before I delve into numbers 9 through 5, let’s have a quick review of what we’ve covered so far – numbers 20 through 15 and 14 through 10:
20. Don’t Be Cocky
19. Listen, Listen, Listen & then . . . listen some more
18. Don’t be a Know It All
17. Show Up
16. Keep it to Yourself
15. Don’t Play Politics
14. You’ve Got Time to Lean, You’ve Got Time to . .Clean
13. Life Isn’t All Rainbows and Roses
12. Ingenuity Goes A Long Way
11. OMG – What Are You Wearing?
10. Put It Away!
Now, onto Number. . .
9. Get Involved . . . But Don’t Get Wasted!
The best tip for interns is: get involved. Join the office softball team, attend receptions, or join like-minded groups such as Society Professional Journalists, Student AdFed, Memphis AdFed, Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA), Memphis Chapter of the Public Relation Society of America (PRSA), Association for Women in Communications, or attend Undercurrent events around town.
Many interns also get invited to various “outside-of-work” company activities. These events could be training sessions, lectures, company picnics, or, if you’re really lucky, company dinners and parties. By all means, go to these events! Attending will not only give you a chance to learn more about the field within which you’re interning, but you will also make social contacts within the company and from the community. Moving forward, these contacts could prove invaluable. But don’t forget it’s also a professional environment.
At work get-togethers, socials, receptions, conventions, and/or conferences as well as at community events, please remember this key rule:
Don’t get drunk, just because the drinks are free!
I shouldn’t have to add anything to this, but it seems that I do. Why? Because at almost every event that I’ve attended in the past two years, I’ve seen at least two guests become #thatgirl, #thatwoman, or #thatguy and I was horrified each time.
Here’s a personal story to help put things into perspective:
My best friend tagged along to a weeklong convention I was hosting in NYC and after one too many drink tickets were consumed, said best friend decided to tell the husband of a member on the Board of Directors for the nonprofit with which I was working at the time (no – I didn’t get fired and my leaving had nothing to do with this incident) that she hoped he ended up in a nursing home and that he was a war loving hate monger. Did I mention he was a veteran? This was in addition to some other choice words and phrases that I can’t bring myself to mention for fear of remembering the horror that I felt when I just happened to overhear their exchange on that fateful evening in March of 2009. To this day, my best friend can’t remember exactly what she said but I do quite clearly. I also know that she was my responsibility. Thus, her actions reflected poorly on me and I was judged for them. So . . . even though I was not the one who got drunk because the drinks were free, I learned a valuable lesson.
I chose this story because I felt that it would make the biggest impact, but I too have made the mistake of having one too many and speaking too loudly or gossiping when I should not have been. However, nothing I have ever said was as extreme as the words of my BFF.
The lesson? Do not be that person. Happily, the transgression did not kill my career or make it dead on arrival – but it could have done so easily.
A good rule of thumb is this: If you are of legal drinking age, have one drink (one glass of wine, one beer, or one mixed drink). Sip on it as you mingle with guests and co-workers. Take your time. This one drink should last you at least an hour and preferably, two. If you absolutely must finish that drink before “time is called,” then have a soft drink or a sparkling water as your next beverage.
Then, once you’ve finished that, and if the “party” is still going, allow yourself a second glass of wine or beer and make it last as long as possible. Do not allow yourself more than 3 drinks during any single event, evening, reception, picnic, etc.
Mark my words and if you remember nothing else, please remember this:
You do not want to be that person as an intern, an employee, or a friend. Be classy. You can go get drunk another time or when the work function is over. It won’t kill you to pay for your drinks, but it may kill your career not to!
As an aside: Meet new friends and network, but don’t be the intern who shows up late or hungover for work the next day!
Also, be sensitive to cultural differences and religious beliefs that preclude some people from drinking. If anyone says they would like sparkling water or a soft drink, respect them rather than teasing, cajoling or telling them they’re ‘no fun’. (For all you know, they’re in AA).
And as for handling the sight of your boss in shorts at a summer work event? Just get over it and be grateful for that glimpse of their humanity.
8. Know Your Grammar. You’re In College, Aren’t You?
Details, details, details . . . The only people that need to pay attention to details are accountants, lawyers and physicians, right? Wrong. If you are looking to land a job at ANY company or organization, being detail oriented is not only an asset, it’s a necessity.
First and foremost, clients and companies demand high-quality services, about 80 percent of which involve some type of writing or presentation creation. If you hand over a PowerPoint presentation with grammatical errors, informal tone or worse yet, incorrect information, not only will you not get high marks for performance, but the company’s reputation will suffer as well. Not cool. After all, if a organization can’t trust you to spell, why should they trust you with their business?
It may seem obvious, but check your work, check your work, and then, check your work again. Don’t forget to use the spell-check and the grammar check! These may seem basic, but they are classic intern mistakes. Many members of the Millennial generation are used to updating statuses and creating online postings, where they believe that grammar isn’t critical. However, it is essential that all of your work is extremely professional! And honestly, it’s critical that your statuses and online posts contain correct grammar and are spelled correctly, as well!
“Spell check is available to everyone. Words that are incorrectly spelled or abbreviations often are difficult to decipher [and] can slow down the reading rather than speed it up. It may be more efficient for the sender, but it presents bigger challenges for the individual who has to translate the cryptic language for meaning.”
Secondly, perception is everything. It may sound trite and old-fashioned, but it really is true. Providing work that is spelled correctly, formatted consistently, and addresses the audience accurately will enable you to stand out from the competition and position yourself as a professional that can be counted on for quality work.
Businesses have high standards and if you have a grammatical error in your resume, cover letter, or work assignment or have misspelled something in an e-mail, your name will likely get pushed to the bottom of the pile to never be thought about again! Plain and simple: paying attention to details makes you look good and one little mistake in spelling or grammar can ruin an entire resume, cover letter, or presentation.
In this competitive job market making the right first impression is crucial for students, graduates, and interns. “If the job you’re applying for doesn’t require that you have killer writing skills, it doesn’t mean spelling errors will fly in your résumé or cover letter,” says Barbara Roche, lecturer at The Wharton School.
“Job candidates do themselves no favors when they claim to have an attention to detail and then spell it ‘atention to detail,'” she says. “Most hiring authorities see typos and spelling errors as an indication of a candidate’s performance on the job: low quality and not caring about the impression they make on others.”
A 2011 survey conducted by Learndirect showed that 40% of jobseekers say poor spelling is the area they have been criticized for the most in previous jobs, whilst 56% of employers rate proficiency in English as a top priority when recruiting.
Interns can help their job-hunting efforts by focusing on their spelling and grammar in applications. At a time when one in every 11 young people (aged 18-24) is currently out of work, good spelling and grammar have never been more important in improving job prospects.
Graduate Advantage (UK) has identified the top mistakes being made by British graduates on CVs and application forms (and American graduates are no different):
- Lower case i instead of I, when describing yourself
- There and their are interchanged
- Commonly misspelled words which include: internship, receive, university, and business
- Misuse of commas, colons, and semi-colons
- Text talk and definitely no LOL as well as emoticons
It’s easy for an intern to quickly do a task to get it done, But it’s imperative that you double-check your work before submitting it to the boss, since even small errors will make you seem sloppy.
Interns often get tasked with editing copy or other documents and it’s really a straightforward task. Find whatever is in red, fix the existing document, highlight what you did it, and move on to the next mark-up. Although this process is super simple, it’s often seen as menial and interns tend to zip through red marks at light speed only to return the documents with errors that were already supposed to have been fixed. As an intern, you should make sure that you’re acing what you may consider to be menial tasks. You need to build trust with your employer and you do that by being consistent and accurate.
“Everyone’s entitled to an occasional mistake once you’re on the job. Not that anyone among us is perfect,” Cohen reminds. “The goal is to demonstrate that at least for the purposes of job search that we care enough about the job and our candidacy to pay attention to the details. Although a typo is inevitable even for the most diligent among us, sloppiness at the start usually means the potential for carelessness later on. That’s not an acceptable standard for anyone in job search in a highly competitive market.”
Don’t forget that saving your work is obviously important too! You won’t believe how many times interns have lost documents in the ethers of the internet computer-web.
7. You’re Only as Professional as Your Email.
Many people who use email for business communications fail to realize there is a big difference between using it in that context and to communicate with friends and family. Correspondence of this type should be professional in nature, yet it is often impolite, too casual, and filled with errors. This leaves a bad impression on recipients which may include your boss, colleagues, clients, or prospective employers.
“A work email shouldn’t be written like you are texting your best friend, but many interns tend to forget that,” says Morris Rishty, CEO of REAL Underwear. As an intern, it’s especially important that you always proofread your emails at least three times before hitting send. “A poorly written email can show the boss that you have little interest in the position and aren’t taking the job seriously.”
Make sure your spelling is correct and use your spell checker, but be careful to not rely on it too heavily as it cannot think for you and differentiate between Its and it’s, two, too, and too, or you’re and your. If you know that grammar and spelling are not your strong suits, then maybe it would be advantageous of you to copy the email text and paste it into Word (or Pages) in order to use the grammar checker. The grammar and spell check when used together can catch more than either one used alone. Once you are satisfied with your email, paste it back into the email program and read it again– just to be sure that nothing “messed up” during the exchange.
If you don’t know how to spell a word, please don’t just guess. You don’t even have to use a dictionary these days, although knowing how to do that quickly would be helpful.
On a Mac, you simply press the “fn” key located in the bottom left of your keyboard and the “F12” button, located on the top row, second from the right. This brings up your dashboard where Apple has conveniently placed a Dictionary, Thesaurus, and Encyclopedia combo app called a “widget.” Simply type the word into the search box and choose where you would like to search in the left-hand drop down menu. It’s as easy as that.
If you’re not using a Mac or it using the internet is easier for you, simply type the word into the Google search bar and hit enter. Google will bring up a webpage where it will ask you if you meant _______. There, Google will provide you with the correct spelling of the word.
I hope that by now that I don’t have to explain why you shouldn’t write your message in all caps or in all lower cases letters. Use “Title Case” as if you were writing a term paper. Although, I’ve seen several papers from students who didn’t use Title Case when writing those, either.
Seriously?!? C’mon people – I can’t help you if you don’t help yourself! Be smart. For heaven sakes, you’re in in college, aren’t you? How did you make it this far without basic knowledge of do’s and don’ts?
Next, watch your tone, mind your manners, and be concise. How many times did your parent’s remind you to say please and thank you? Or to not “use that tone of voice” when addressing them? Or to “get to the point”? Communication in the professional world is no different.
In order to mind your manners, remember that many people are offended if strangers address them by their first names. When in doubt, use Mr., Mrs., or Dr. (if appropriate). When you are replying to an email and the sender of the original message has used his or her first name only, then you could safely assume that’s it’s okay to use that person’s first name as well.
Your feelings come across by the way you say something and this defines the “tone” of your communication. It’s often easier to change your tone when you’re speaking. Although, I personally find it much more difficult. It seems that I am constantly making “that face on the outside” or finding that my tone shows exactly how I am feeling even when I am trying to hide it. However, this is uncommon for most people and they tend to struggle with “watching their tone” when writing.
The problem is that the tone of text is largely dependent on the person reading it. However, it doesn’t always have to be. The way you craft your sentences guides people on how to read what you’re trying to say. If your sentences are sharp and frank then people will assume you’re communicating in a gruff and blunt manner. Take a bit of extra time to write full, descriptive sentences so people won’t think you’re being a jerk.
Whenever I write an email, I read my message several times before I hit send. I want to make sure that I come across as respectful, friendly, and approachable, yet professional. I certainly don’t want to sound curt or demanding and I have found that sometimes, simply rearranging paragraphs will help.
Email writers often use emoticons or emoji to convey a certain feeling such as happy, sad, confused, or excited. Use good judgement here. You may think it’s cute and helps denote the tone of your words, but 44% of people believe it’s wildly unprofessional to put smiley faces in business emails. If you write to someone frequently and you have a less formal relationship, them emoticons may be okay. However, if you’re writing to a prospective employer or to someone with whom you’ve never spoken, stick to words only!
Since nearly 50% disapprove of the use of emoticons, that means you essentially have a 50/50 shot at sending a smiley to someone who won’t appreciate it. I’d say that unless you have a former relationship with someone at your internship, you should stay away from emoticons, period. This goes for anyone within your work environment, unless you’re replying to an email in which they have used a smiley face first.
When composing an email, you should be as brief as possible while still making sure to include all the pertinent information. Most employers receive a substantial amount of emails each day and don’t have a lot of time to spend on each one. If you want your recipient to pay attention to your message, make sure to get to the point as quickly as possible.
In fact, I’ve found that some like for the “point” of the message to be clearly stated in the subject line, repeated in the body, and followed by the supporting information in a (professionally written) bullet point format.
While we are on the topic of conciseness, let’s address abbreviations. Just. Don’t. Use. Them! Period. End. of. Story!
I know that many members of the Millennial generation find it acceptable to use abbreviations for any word two or more letters in length. Some examples are: UR, instead of your, 2 instead of to, or too, and plz and thx instead of please and thanks. Truth be told, it actually caused me great pain to type that list. I cannot stand abbreviated text messages and if I were to receive an email from an intern that contained anything similar to the above examples, I would be furious. Not to mention the fact that I would instantly lose respect for that intern and begin to question their competence. I’m serious, you guys (and no, i’m not old and yes, I text quite often).
Some experts agree that spelling has gotten worse with each new generation of job seekers, especially with the increased amount of texting and abbreviations younger folks tend to use. While running an internship program at Penn State, Roche ran into this problem often.
“It’s a real problem. College juniors and seniors simply have no awareness that they write in slang and shorthand in all instances until it is pointed out to them. They seem to split into two groups: those that are grateful to receive the feedback and remedy the situation. And those that give you the ‘thousand-yard stare’ as if to say, ‘So?'” Roche says. “This is how stark the difference can be: ‘Please accept the enclosed résumé for the entry-level administrator position’ and ‘Dude, hook me up.'”
The advents of social media and forums where you only have 140 characters to express yourself aren’t doing spelling-challenged job seekers any favors either, says Cohen.
“Social media has given a lot of people carte blanche to abuse spelling and grammar. In a world of tweets and texts, there’s no room for padding,” he says. “Words and sentences shrink to symbols and acronyms and have almost become a new language. Think: BFF or LOL.”
Finally, use a professional email address for crying out loud. Your email address actually says a lot about who you are. Are you a firstname.lastname@example.org, a email@example.com, a firstname.lastname@example.org, a email@example.com, a firstname.lastname@example.org, or an email@example.com? Maybe. But do you really want a prospective employer or boss to think so?
Also, many interns won’t be given a company email (sometimes, yes but sometimes, no) and it wouldn’t hurt to have a dedicated email account for work correspondence. This way you can keep all of your work, school, and personal emails separate from one another and lessen the likelihood of missing something important. Nowadays, you can easily get a free account with a more formal address for this purpose. Consider using your first Initial and last name (with only the day of your birth added on to the end, if you have a common name), your full first and last name separated by a period, or your initials and day of birth. These are much more professional options and are also easier for people to remember.
A Few Tips:
- Always remember to return calls, emails, and texts within a reasonable amount of time.
- Don’t hit “reply-all” to a company-wide email if you’re responding to one person. That’s a sure-fire way to annoy people right off the bat.
- Definitely don’t ‘accidentally’ publish a funny dog video to your company’s YouTube account or accidentally get sexy with the entire office.
What you say? Yes, all Melanie Anderson wanted to do was alert her co-workers that the lunch truck had arrived. Instead, she ended up forwarding intimate emails with her fiancé (who also worked at the Scotland-based oil services firm) to 89 of their co-workers.
This bit of unintended intra-office exhibitionism occurred due to the most innocent of errors. When Ms. Anderson alerted her co-workers to the fact that the “Sandwich van is here,” she pasted it over an email response to her fiancé and CC’d the rest of the office. Unfortunately, she had forgotten that during the email conversation with her fiancé there was some intimate talk such as “I loved our s****** last night…it was ace.” (Honestly, I’m not entirely sure what that seven-letter “s-word” is, but apparently it’s something in Scottish slang that the Daily Mail felt the need to give the asterisk treatment to).
As I’m sure you can predict, the email found its way outside of the company and became a viral sensation with its own associated hashtag: #sandwichvan. Ms. Anderson and her fiancé both later resigned from their positions out of complete and utter embarrassment.
Do remember that you are in a professional setting, and you will be treated as a professional. It is expected that you behave professionally at all times throughout your internship, even when it comes to email.
Overall moral of the email story? Don’t be the guy that send his professor an email in the video below. Ever.
6. Prove Yourself.
When you come in as an intern, you’ll have to prove yourself in the work world. To show that you pay attention to detail, follow instructions, and care about quality, do a great job even when you’re handed boring tasks. There are several simple ways in which you can show your employer that you’re to be trusted and then eventually, someone may let you try something more interesting.
First, cling to a Pen and a Notebook and make sure you write things down. Seriously, write down everything. It not only avoids annoying your boss by going to him/her again for the points you missed or forgot, but will help a lot when you start working. An intern who carries a pen and a notebook with them is way more trustworthy than one who comes alone.
When your supervisor is explaining something they want you to work on, it’s easy to get caught up in just nodding your head and saying you understand. But then, when you get back to your desk, you have no idea what you’re supposed to be doing and you realize that you were totally wondering if you set your DVR for Scandal while your boss was explaining your task.
That’s why writing everything down is the way to go. Instead of mindlessly nodding your head, you’re writing down every word, that way when they ask if you understand, you can either say “Yes, I do,” or “No, I have this one question about this (pointing to your notes).” I’ve had supervisors comment on how much they like that I write things down because it shows them that I care about what I’m doing. Truth be told, it’s usually on an array of sticky notes that will soon cover my desk but the fact that I write it down at all, puts people at ease.
It gives your employer the same feeling you get when you go out to eat and your server actually writes down your complicated order filled with substitutions. He or she may be able to memorize it with no problem but you are more comfortable that it will arrive just the way you ordered it because they wrote it down.
Secondly, demonstrate your desire to learn new things and show that you are mentally present. One of the best ways to make yourself liked at your internship is to always show enthusiasm and commitment to the job. Sure, you’ll see colleagues who are bummed out and who, after many years at their jobs, don’t seem to be enjoying the work. However, you’re not one of them!
Presumably, you’ve picked your internship because you are interested in the field and eager to move ahead in it. Communicate while on the job. You can do this by displaying passion in your work and even if it is just a data-entry assignment, you can still be creative in structuring the data in a way that helps the management. Your work will not go unnoticed. It may seem that way at the time but trust me, people notice even if they say nothing.
The golden rule for interns is to always ask: “Is there anything else I can help you with?” Whenever you see an opportunity to help others, don’t hesitate to lend a helping hand. Research shows that workers who help others are actually happier with their jobs and not only that, but it also boosts morale in the work-place.
It puts forth a good image in the office when you seem eager to work and take on new challenges. Don’t be shy. Going to work and going home isn’t the way to be memorable. If you have something to contribute to a discussion, chime in during a meeting (but don’t interrupt and don’t be pushy). The best interns are individuals who are go-getters and don’t wait around for their boss to give them more assignments. Valuable interns ask for new projects and volunteer to help others. Showing initiative is also the good way to show your manager and coworkers your value. You’re not expected to know everything, but surely you have something of value to offer the company.
Even if you are quietly working on an independent project, don’t put headphones on at work. It is pretty unprofessional and as an intern, you don’t want to seem closed off to the environment and conversations around you. Plus, do you ever see the CEO wearing headphones? I didn’t think so.
Also, don’t ever do your homework while at your internship! I don’t care how much homework you have to do when you get home, do not do your homework at work and especially don’t do it on a company computer. Why bother with an internship if you’re just going to do schoolwork? This is a learning opportunity. So be present and learn!
There have been plenty of times that I got up in the morning, went straight to work, then straight to class, and then worked on various projects, homework, and household duties until 6am.
I’m not saying that you should expect to have my schedule, but it’s not your company’s fault that you’re swamped with homework and you shouldn’t waste company time by doing homework on the clock.
You made it this far, didn’t you? If you can brand yourself as a contributor and a problem-solver, you’ll become a go-to member of the team.
5. Smile & Be Nice!
That seems simple enough, right? Apparently, wrong. You’d be surprised how many times i’ve seen the grumpy, frumpy, annoyed, pissy, scowling, disinterested, and down-right unfriendly intern and/or employee. It’s quite shocking.
I’ve always found that the best way to make time at work go more quickly, is to enjoy yourself while you are there. This advice works for almost anything actually.
I used it just the other day at the grocery store and trust me, the grocery stores in Memphis try my patience every single time I go. But, I just smile and say hello to those with whom I happen to make eye contact or offer a polite excuse me while moving past the mother and her 5 kids standing right in the middle of an aisle. When I employ these tactics, I feel much less like hibernating or embarking on a killing spree. So…
Be the person who smiles, says hello, and introduces him/herself to everybody at work. Don’t be the person who detonates his/her lunch in the microwave and doesn’t clean it up because that is a sure fire way to make it harder on other employees to employ the smile and be nice tactic.
Most times, you make your reputation on first impressions, especially if you’re only at the internship for a short time, such as one semester or during the summer months. So make sure that everyone’s associations with you are positive. It makes a big difference if you leave a general impression around the office that you are a good person to work with.
Be polite to everyone you encounter especially those who are there to help you. Make friends with the receptionists, drivers, and custodial staff you meet. They are some of the nicest people! Get along with others. Be pleasant and courteous to everyone and try to get along with the other interns. Ask people how they’re doing. Make smalltalk. Don’t be a robot. Don’t leave the printer jammed. If you jam up the printer at work, use all the ink, and leave it without any paper, people in the office are not going to like you very much. Either fix it yourself or find someone who can help. You don’t want to make a bad impression with your lack-luster printer etiquette. This isn’t rocket science, guys.
Be flexible. This is one of the strongest characteristics that an intern can have. Everyone likes to work with someone who is nice, flexible, and easy to work with. It’s one of those traits that can get the internship turned into a job, but It’s not a substitute for good performance though. You must perform well and be nice at the same time.
Be at ease. I know it is easier said than done, but when you are tensed, out of place, or under-confident–your work, and your relationships at the work-place, suffers. You have to gather yourself and portray a picture of the happy + confident you. If the work-place makes you uncomfortable for some reason, try to get over it and start with the basics of smiling, and saying hello.
Be positive. Your attitude is everything during your internship. Even if you’re under stress, do your best to have a positive attitude. You will encounter challenges during your internship, but if you approach them in a positive way, it’ll be easier to conquer those roadblocks.
During your internship, allow your manager and coworkers to see the real you. Let your character shine through and don’t be so focused on being perfect all the time. In fact, you should allow your character and personality to blend into the work you do. A big part of your internship is based on the relationships you make, so don’t be afraid to be yourself. Unless you’re a serial killer, a sociopath, an obnoxious and rude person, or anything similar–then you should probably hide those qualities away while at work. I’m just sayin’.
Which brings me to how you should learn to . . . Distinguish between polite- friendly, hey-I’m-your-buddy-friendly, and I’ll-lick-your-feet-friendly. Once you are at ease with yourself, remember to not go overboard. Don’t entertain the idea of sucking up to someone, you might think that by being extra sweet, you will earn points but in actuality, you’ll earn an impression of being a total cling-on case.
At the same time, don’t let the idea of being bestest pals take over. Just because you don’t need to be a neurotic edgy intern, you are not going to treat your boss like your best friend.
The idea is that you don’t need to make your boss the next superman or your total BFF. Be polite and friendly but remember that they are your boss. There is a very thin line between all three attitudes you might exude in your behavior, and you should learn to distinguish. And don’t try a poker face. Expressionless faces are simply annoying and kind of creepy. Also don’t try the lost puppy face–nobody is interested in knowing the story behind your longing. Just Smile. Be positive. There is nothing more to it.
Lastly, talk to your manager about what you’re getting out of your internship, and thank them for giving you the opportunity to work there. We all love hearing the occasional expression of appreciation, so don’t be shy about offering it. A simple expression of gratitude may even put you ahead of the pack and no matter what type of setting you’re working in, everyone loves a happy, enthusiastic, young college intern. If they like you as a person, they’re more likely to ask you back or recommend you!
That’s all for this month’s edition and the end is near!
Stay tuned for #4 through #1.
Come back next month to learn the final 4 Ways to NOT be #ThatIntern.