True story: I’ve had the postcard (pictured) on my fridge for the last seven years. I acquired it from the boutique, SoHo hotel I used to always stay at during work trips to NYC. Each day when the hotel made up the rooms, they would leave one of these postcards on the pillow. This one just spoke to me. I seriously love it.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about “you do you”. However, there is an art to social awareness in the workplace. It’s important you understand how and when to interact with others at all levels, decipher the unwritten rules (like don’t microwave your leftover fish dinner in the company lunch room) and learn how to be respectfully persistent. It’s important you aren’t so caught up in yourself that you ignore the cues around you, and wind up being deemed the annoying intern.
To help you out, I’ve rounded up 15 tips that will keep you in your employer’s good graces. You’d be amazed at how many interns (and full-time employees) lack awareness in the workplace. Follow these tips and you’ll keep yourself off the annoying intern list.
1. Be hyper-aware of the workplace environment, and act accordingly
Study your surroundings. What is the company culture like? How do people interact with each other? Do people take phone calls in the open or do they step into conference rooms? Pay attention, and match the behaviors.
2. Establish a consistent communication style with your supervisor
Sit down with your supervisor during your first week and understand what communication styles work best for them. Do they prefer daily in-person check-ins, or would they rather receive weekly status emails from you? Understanding their communication preferences up front will prevent you from over or under delivering information, and keep you on the same page.
3. Don’t sit around on social media (or Slack, Skype, Google Hangouts)
Not only does this look really bad, but it is such a poor use of your time. You are at the internship to learn. Get off your computer and start absorbing the conversations going on around you IRL. Also, you may think you’re flying under the radar, but chances are your browser history and chat conversations are saved on the company’s servers. Best practice is to only use your computer as intended, and keep it professional.
4. Always have a notebook, and take notes
Show that you are taking the internship seriously and take notes. Believe me by the end of each day, you will not remember what was discussed that morning. You have way too much new information to absorb on a daily basis to simply commit conversations to memory. One of the worst offenses as an intern is asking repeat questions because you failed to take notes from the start.
5. No job is too big or too small
Emphasis on the too small here, because this is where most interns fail to come through. You should assume you will be tasked with a mix of responsibilities, and accept them all gracefully. If an employer can’t trust you to complete the small projects, why should they award you with the bigger ones? Don’t complain, and try to learn something from each project. Someday in your working future, when you’re burning the midnight oil trying to meet a huge deadline, you’re going to wish you could go back to the days that you were the worry-free intern making copies in the copy room. Believe me.
6. Don’t be a know-it-all
Quickest way to annoy everyone around you is to act like you know it all. Reminder: You’re an intern, you still have a lot to learn. Use this internship experience as an opportunity to ask intelligent questions, and practice being a good listener.
7. Say yes to opportunities
If you are invited to sit in on a meeting or attend a lunch with a client, say yes. If you are lucky enough to get these invites and you’re consistently turning them down, you’re telling your employer that you don’t care. Why should they care, if you don’t? If you have a conflict, do your best to reschedule and make yourself available. These interactions are some of the best learning opportunities you can have during an internship. You get to be a fly on the wall, observe and absorb.
8. “I’m bored” is not in your vocabulary
Your internship isn’t going to be riveting every second of the day. I know, I’ve been there. Even the coolest internships have their downtime. However, it is your job to make the best use of this downtime and take initiative as an intern. Educate yourself and read the company blog. Do some research on your company’s competitors so you can contribute from a different point of view during the next team meeting. Or work on the internship summary you owe your advisor for college credit. Whatever you do, don’t say (or act) like you’re bored.
9. Don’t be last in and first out
The obvious (yet still disregarded) point here is to be on time. Plain and simple, it doesn’t look good if you are consistently strolling in after your boss and colleagues each day. It looks lazy, and what is more annoying than lazy? In addition to being on time, I also encourage you to put in some extra time every now and then. Don’t be in such a hurry to make your way out the door each day. People notice that too. Stay late, be present and lend some moral support by offering to help others through some of their overtime hours.
10. Know your audience
Remember Thumper in Bambi? “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all.” Same concept goes for knowing what to say and what not to say in various business settings. For example — don’t get caught with your foot in your mouth for saying the wrong thing at a client meeting, because you didn’t do your research and understand your audience ahead of time. Everyone slips up and will undoubtedly say the wrong thing from time to time, but do yourself a favor and always pause to think about your audience before you speak.
11. Practice excellent communication skills
The way you handle your written and verbal communication in the workplace is super important. Why do you think “excellent communication skills” is always a top attribute listed on job requirements? An internship is not the time to address people casually or write emails in incomplete sentences. You’re not texting. Communicate like the professional you aspire to be.
12. Befriend your fellow interns
You’re all in this internship thing together. It does you no good to alienate your peers. Not only could you make some really solid friends through this experience, but your ability to work well with others demonstrates that you are a team player. Collaboration is key.
13. Don’t overshare
Connecting with people over shared interests is a great way to bond and establish trust within the workplace. But disclosing too much about your personal life, or how hungover you may be, is inappropriate. Don’t cross the line and put yourself, and potentially your supervisor, in an uncomfortable position.
14. Always be solution-oriented
It is OK to ask questions, but you should avoid asking questions if you haven’t attempted to answer them yourself first. Google is your friend. Start there. A lot of companies also have their own private intranets that are full of tutorials and useful information. The ability to self-start is the opposite of annoying.
15. Stay positive
No one likes to be around someone who frequently has a negative attitude. Your ability to stay positive will do wonders to keep you off the annoying intern list. However, don’t throw it on so thick that you come off as fake. Find the happy medium between negative and sugar-coated positive and you’ll set yourself up for success.
As an intern you’re not expected to know everything. Although hopefully now, you know a little bit more about how to shake those annoying intern tendencies. Be yourself, but be smart.