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Intern etiquette: How to impress at the workplace

You recently landed a new internship. It’s going to be your first foray into the working world. You can’t wait to get started, but you’re also nervous. What if you embarrass yourself at work and alienate your new bosses or colleagues within the first week? Common courtesy and professionalism will stand you in good stead as a newbie intern. Make it your goal to create a positive first impression and everything else will fall into place. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes. They’re just opportunities for you to learn and improve.

Here are some etiquette tips to help you make a stellar debut at your new internship:

Look the part

Appearances matter. Dress too casually and people will think you aren’t taking the internship seriously. If you look professional, on the other hand, you’ll be treated with respect. Make sure you have outfits that are in line with the company culture. Try to gauge the dress code while interviewing with the firm. This gives you an idea of what they consider acceptable attire.

  • Groom yourself properly – take a shower and use body spray. If you have a beard, shave or at least trim it. Never show up to work looking sloppy or half-awake.
  • Most employers send out assistance emails to facilitate your onboarding. These emails usually outline the dress code. If they don’t tell you, though, don’t be afraid to reach out and ask.
  • When in doubt, it’s better to be conservatively overdressed than casually underdressed.

Be punctual

Have you figured out the route to your new workplace? You don’t want to be late for your first day. It’s the fastest way to make a terrible impression. Wake up and leave your house early if you have to. It’s always a good idea to show up to work 15 minutes early. It shows that you’re eager to get started and gives you plenty of time to settle in.  

  • Attempt a trial commute run in advance so you know you can get to work on time, especially if the internship is in a city you’re not familiar with. 
  • If you aren’t used to waking up early, make it a habit before you start your internship. 
  • Learn to keep an eye on the clock. Deadlines are real! 

Stay approachable

Being friendly and approachable is key if you want to build strong workplace relationships. You’re going to need support to do well – not just in your current role, but also later on in your career. Make it a point to greet everyone, or at least acknowledge them. Try to learn names and faces. Be polite and respectful. 

  • Get to know everyone, from the big boss to the support staff. 
  • Introduce yourself to everyone. Don’t wait for them to make the first move. 
  • It’s good to be social but enforce healthy boundaries. You don’t want to come across as the new office gossip. 

Mind your P’s and Q’s

The manner in which you interact with others says a lot about you as a person. Your behaviour is going to come under the microscope a lot, at least initially. You’ll also be working with people who are from earlier generations and have a different set of values. Make sure you behave in a mature, respectful way with everyone.  

  • Watch what you say. Don’t use informal language or colloquialisms like “dude” and “gotcha”. 
  • Learn professional email etiquette. You’re going to be sending out a lot of them. 
  • Don’t stay glued to your phone. Keep it on silent mode so it doesn’t disturb other people. 

Learn the Ropes

Being an intern is all about the educational experience. Your academics have done their best to prepare you, but you still have a long way to go if you want to acquire the skill set you need to succeed as a working professional. Be proud of your education, talents, and strengths, but don’t let it stop you from growing. 

  • Don’t be afraid of asking questions. If you don’t know something, ask questions until you do, this will also help you in improving your communication skills.
  • Ask for help. You’re not expected to do your job perfectly on the first try. Your colleagues or seniors will be happy to help if you ask politely. 
  • Get to know your work environment, how the different departments work together, and where you fit into the picture. 

Network with the best

The most successful people got where they are today thanks in no small part to the people who stood behind them. This includes bosses, colleagues, and mentors. There’s a lot of truth in the belief that you become the people you surround yourself with. Make sure you associate with the right kind of people. Not only is this good for your career, but it also factors into your personal development.

  • Introduce yourself to your seniors who are experts in their field. 
  • Share your lunch breaks with people who can contribute to your growth. 
  • Find a mentor. This could be a colleague, a boss, or even someone from a different organization. 

Work Hard

As an intern, you need to give it everything you’ve got. Practically, most interns don’t have much to contribute to a project aside from their enthusiasm and presence – at least in the beginning.  Even so, do what you can. Don’t shy away from hard work. If you don’t have anything productive to do, volunteer to do something productive. 

  • Get to the office early and stay late if you have to. 
  • Volunteer for extra responsibilities that don’t necessarily come under your role. 
  • Keep honing your existing skills and pick up new ones.

It’s all in a day’s work 

There’s going to be a lot of work headed your way, and not all of it will be what you trained for. You may even consider some tasks – like filing and sorting – as beneath you. It’s all in a day’s work, though. You will get more responsibility in time, but not if aren’t willing to do what it takes to get there. Of course, not all internships are full of menial labour. And even if you have a support role currently, you will have opportunities to shine. 

  • Interns are a support role, so don’t be afraid of “menial labour”.  
  • Read emails, file, sort, talk to customers, and enter data – without complaining. 
  • Your boss and team members will gauge your trustworthiness and current skill level based on the simple tasks you’re given initially. If you do well, you’ll be trusted with more meaningful work soon.  

It’s normal for new interns to have a case of the jitters. Don’t let it stop you from focusing on the good, believing in yourself, and putting your best foot forward. Remember: your new workmates have been in your shoes. Most of them will cut you at least a bit of slack.

Do yourself a favour by not burying yourself under the weight of your own expectations. Learn, be friendly, and get on board with the new company culture. Keep growing and you’ll be an integral part of your new workplace in no time. 

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Having written for publications globally for over a decade, Prathamesh is a seasoned writer. He loves to read, game, and travel the world in his spare time.

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