Congratulations! You are probably here because you just landed your first internship! Way to go, those things are hard to get. After the initial wave of excitement, you are probably starting to fill with questions. If you are still trying to find one, or have an interview check out my previous posts.
Hopefully, your hiring manager laid out what you will be doing for the summer or semester and it falls in line with your goals and expectations of the experience you want to get. Over the last couple years I have helped search, hire and shape interns into little engineers. This post is dedicated to all the components that make up an awesome intern. Having this information will help you get the most out of your internship. As I said in my first post, there is often a large disconnect between what is learned in college and how it is applied in a job setting. I am here to help you bridge that gap.
What to Expect
Your first few days are going to be a whirlwind and may be referred to as onboarding. All Aboard the Intern Express! But really, you are going to be expected to soak up a lot of information that you will need throughout the rest of your time at the company. If there are additional things you would like to be added to your on-boarding ask! There are examples throughout this post.
If you’re not sure what to bring on your first few days, you can never go wrong with the items below, they will help you have the best day possible.
- First and foremost, your best and most positive self!
- Backpack, keep all your stuff together and in one place.
- ID or key fob, most companies use security badges or key fobs at employee entrances. Put it on your keychain or leave it in your car when you go home for the day.
- Lunch, sometimes interns get taken out to lunch on the first day, but it is better to be safe than sorry.
- Water bottle, hydration is important for your brain! Make sure you are drinking plenty of water throughout the day. This also reminds you to get up for biological breaks and trips to the water cooler.
- Phone charger, later in this post we will talk about social media but that’s not why you need a phone charger. In a large manufacturing environment, people are seldom at their desks and communicating important needs on the floor can be easily done through a call or text. I also text and call my interns if they are comfortable giving out their number.
Confession: I lost my key fob THE FIRST DAY of my current job. I think it fell out of my pocket, now it is permanently on my keychain.
Know the company
You most likely did some research before your interview now is the time to brush up on it. If you really want to impress look at their company values and if it is a manufacturing facility, their quality policy too. Knowing what type of products the company makes and who their customers and competitors are will give you a better idea of what is going on your first few days regardless of your field. If you know who your boss or mentor is, check them out on professional social media sites like LinkedIn. I don’t suggest looking at their personal social media accounts, but if you can’t help yourself, don’t send them a friend request.
Appearance is Important
Your hiring manager probably laid out the dress code in one of your interviews or emails. If they didn’t, feel free to ask. Following the dress code is an important and often understated part of a job. If you are unsure about what to wear remember there are some instances where formal is not always better. One of my interns showed up on their first day in suit pants, a white button down and sweater vest. While it is acceptable work attire for the office, he was overdressed. He had been instructed to wear jeans or khakis that he didn’t mind getting dirty. While I don’t fault him for wanting to make a good first impression, I did have to change what his training plan was for the day.
Generally, plan to look like you didn’t just roll out of bed in the morning. Get up in time to make coffee or get to work early enough to grab a cup of joe on the way to your desk. Over the course of your internship, you want to be consistent with your appearance and dress. Make sure your clothes are appropriate and well within the dress code. Your clothing shouldn’t be distracting, you have a short amount of time to make a lasting impression. You don’t want to be remembered as the intern that wore highlighter yellow pants, do you? Take a cue from others in the office that project a professional vibe.
Side Note: Once you are in a full-time position for a while and feel confident you understand the work environment, rules and your own position you have more tolerance to mix it up. I have a friend that works as a project engineering manager and she went from short hair to a bright pink pixie and continued to change colors every few months. She also kept up with coloring and cutting it, so it always looked great. Work environments are becoming more accepting, but an internship is not the best time to test the waters.
Another category of appearance is organization. Some companies take this more seriously than others. Some offices are paperless while others print everything. Find the best way to organize your files, notes, and information effectively. If someone stops by your desk and asks you something, you should be able to find it in under 30 seconds! Having a clean desk and an organized desk is two different things. Try to keep both to a basic level. If you have trouble with this take the last 5 to 10 minutes at the end of the day to tidy everything up. Coming into a clean desk is always a good way to start the day!
Confession: I am pretty sure I have a peanut butter covered spoon sitting on my desk at work right now. I am not the best at cleaning my work area clean, but it’s something I am working on getting better at.
There is another tier to an organization that most interns aren’t exposed to until after they obtain employment. Most companies have a network or intranet. This is an internal network used by the company to store documents, standards, files and usually your personal work. Almost all companies provide their employees with a private network folder or a Working Folder. This is where you save all your information. Generally, you never want to save anything local to your computer. Network drives are backed up frequently and all the information is saved to a server.
Side Note: One time I accidentally deleted an entire folder of all my drawings for a project, it had taken me MONTHS to make. I was so upset I was shaking, however, one call to IT and they restored it completely!
Organization falls into other places at work too, if there is a staff kitchen or group work area clean up after yourself. Make sure you are taking home anything leftover in the fridge at least once a week. If you borrow things from co-workers make sure to return them in a timely matter, they will be much more likely to lend you things again.
Example, we have a community toolbox at work. It stays locked most of the time. I have a key and so do a few interns. Sometimes they bring tools with them and don’t return them until they are done with a project, this could take up to a week sometimes. If I need the 10mm wrench I am expecting it to be in someone’s hand or in the toolbox!
Working with IT
The IT department is going to be responsible for setting up your computer, phone and network connections. Ideally, this is done before you start, but sometimes it can take a few day to get everything up and running. Company IT departments usually work off of a helpdesk or ticketing system. It is an email service that works to assign tasks to different people.
So if I need IT to install a computer on the network for a machine I am placing in production, I write an email to the helpdesk explaining what I need. Whoever manages helpdesk requests will assign my task to one of its members based on urgency. This helps them keep track of all the requests since they are all managed at a central location.
The first week of your internship you will probably be talking to someone in IT a lot. Most of my interns need access to different network drives and programs, which IT handles. Almost all professional software today requires licensing, most companies use floating license. Meaning 10 people can use the software at a time, if an 11th person tries to open the program they will get a license error.
IT is also responsible for protecting the company from cybercriminals. In the past year, there have been many businesses affected by ransomware, detailed here. You may be required to do cybersecurity training. When it comes to downloading anything on your computer it is better to ask first, especially if it is software. Remember your computer is connected to the network and servers that everyone’s data is stored on.
Find a Mentor
If you aren’t already assigned a mentor ask your boss if they or someone else in the office can mentor you. Having a mentor is an important part of learning. They are someone you can trust to guide you and teach you the right way to do things in your field. I use my mentors not just for engineering advice but also for work and life advice, they have been around the block a few times and experienced many personal and career challenges.
In a new work environment, there are a lot of things that come into play other than your work. There are often office politics and maneuvring that needs to be done in order to get projects accomplished. As an intern, you have little to no experience with these situations and may not know what is appropriate when.
Side Note: One of the first things I told my interns was “don’t be afraid to ask questions, and make sure you tell someone when you screw up.” I said it like this because they are going to mess up, failure and mistakes are a part of learning and of life. The sooner they come to terms with that and have a mentor to guide them through those situations the better of they are going to be. Also, its probably never as bad as you think it’s going to be, and I’ve probably already done it.
Take it Seriously
Save social media for lunch. If I walk by my interns and they are messing around with their phones a number of questions run through my head.
- Do they have enough work?
- Are they bored?
- WHY ARE THEY ON THEIR PHONE?
- I can seeeeeeeee you
- Does this look like a social hour?
There is nothing wrong with taking a quick break every few hours, I would actually recommend it, but constantly checking your phone is not acceptable. Your mentor and boss have the potential to serve as references in your future, you don’t want something like Facebook or Twitter to get in the way of a dream job. Take your internship seriously.
Show up and be all there. There is no doubt you will get to work on time the first few weeks, but don’t slip into a habit of sleeping in or arriving a couple minutes late if you have a hard starting time. Excuses like traffic and weather are not acceptable if you are constantly using them. You may be halfway between the learning world and the workforce world but you are being held accountable by the latter’s standards. This means you need to check the weather the night before, and always plan on getting to work at least 10 minutes early, that usually will account for any unusual traffic, accidents or weather that comes up.
Don’t sneak out early, or complain about the long work day. We know you’ve never done this before and your first few weeks are going to be easier because of it. Usually Tuesday of the second week the interns look like they could be cast on the walking dead, but a pep talk or two later they are just fine.
As an intern, you probably won’t get sick days or paid vacation days, so if you have to miss work you will either not get paid or have to make it up. If you need to miss work talk to your boss about it at least a week before. In most cases, your boss will work with you, especially if it is a school-related function or event.
Before you go running to someone with a question ask yourself, can I find this information online? At least half of the intern questions I get the first week are something I either have to google or is readily available online. In fact the first week I got more questions about using the microwaves at lunch than engineering.
If you do need to ask a question, ask! Then ask what resource they use and how they know that information. There are going to be plenty of times where the answer is experience or training and there is no way you would have been able to figure it out by yourself, so never be afraid to ask questions, just make sure you are asking the right ones.
Be a sponge. Soak up every ounce of experience and information you can muster. What kind of resources do you see your co-workers utilize and are they available to you? Are they books, manuals, standards or websites? Are there standards that your company uses to make decisions?
For example, engineering practices use many different standards, which is a reference used for comparison and consistency. There are standards for bolts, nuts, material… you name it there is something to read about it. Documents like this help a company attain a level of quality because everyone is using the same information to make decisions.
You are going to be learning more than just how people in your field work every day. Be aware of the work culture, environment, and management style. You are testing it out, how does it make you feel? What do you like and not like? Being aware of these additional workplace items will help make better decisions about the kind of company you want to work for in the future.
Math Doesn’t Lie
When possible always use data, statistics, and math in your research for projects or tasks. I always tell my interns “math doesn’t lie and it doesn’t have opinions either.”
Many times projects involve purchasing equipment, which costs money. In order to really understand what the company needs, some amount of data is going to need to be collected and analyzed. Other people around you will also have ideas and put in their two cents BUT because you don’t have the experience of longer working employees you need to have data. It also has to be good data, that is relevant.
Every growing company has an ERP system, which stands for Enterprise Resource Planning. It handles everything from customer relations to supply chain management. When there is an ERP system in place everyone in the workplace uses it. From the CEO to the employees working on the shop floor, it provides valuable information. It holds the cost of items, drawings, materials to make the items, contacts of vendors and customers, purchase agreements, financial information, employee details, etc. Think of it as a library of transactions for everything the company does.
That means the ERP system holds a TON OF DATA. There are many different types of ERP systems, and the vast majority let to export to Excel to sort what you are looking for. Say you are in purchasing, you are asked to decide whether switching suppliers for an item would save costs. In order to answer that you would need to know how much you have spent on that item in the last 5 years. Once you are familiar with the ERP system finding and downloading that data takes less than 5 minutes. If ERP system training is not part of your on-boarding ask for it! I will also note that you may not have access to everything you need on here, much like the network drives above.
I can’t stress this enough, if you want to be taken seriously you have to provide information, not opinions. When someone asks what you think you should be basing your answers off of data. This is helpful in the workplace because it takes the emotion out of decision making. I use this tactic myself, I work with a lot of people that have been in the business for as long as I’ve been alive. After you gather the data, the next step is to make it easy to digest for other people. Create a powerful powerpoint presentation with graphics think charts, diagrams and drawings help to get the point across.
Make a Personal Schedule
One of the hardest switches from college to an internship is TIME. You go from taking 4 to 6 hours of class a day, walking around, socializing and having some spare time to spending 8 hours a day in a single place. This is a big adjustment, and the first few weeks are going to be a little rough, but getting ready ahead of time will make your life a lot easier. Setting up your routine before you even start will ensure a smooth transition into your internship. Here are some items to think about adding into your own routine.
- Use the weekend to prepare, an hour or two on Sunday can save you serious frustration later in the week when you realize you are out of clean shirts, peanut butter, and mental energy.
- Get to bed on time! Set a timer so you don’t forget.
- Make your lunch the night before, or better yet all on Sunday!
- Packing your lunch is a lot more cost effective than eating out all the time, even if you have a paid internship. Make it healthy with complex carbs and protein to beat the 3 pm crash.
- Consider a work uniform, something easy to throw on each day within the guidelines of the dress code.
- Programmable coffee pot, I have one and I wake up to fresh coffee every morning. It makes it a lot easier to get out of bed.
- Schedule time to relax, whether it is before bed or right when you get home to make sure you are giving yourself some downtime! Practicing self-care is important, you don’t want to get burned out 3 weeks into your internship.
- Gym time! After a few weeks all the time you spend at work, probably sitting, is going to get old.
Side Note: I had a really hard time adjusting to working 40 hours a week. For the first month, I didn’t want to do anything when I got home. Luckily I didn’t have to because I had taken the time to get everything ready for the week on Saturday and Sunday.
Communication is Key
I will get into a lot more detail in my next post but communication is extremely important for any sized company. Here are some bite-sized tips but make sure to check back next week for the second part of this post.
- Have a pen and paper on you at all times. You never know when you are going to be asked to do something.
- Listening and understanding are two different things. Asking questions as soon as they come up will help tailor your mentors plan for teaching you, so speak up!
- Have a good attitude when communicating, people will be more open-minded and willing to help you. Keep this in mind especially when you are receiving constructive criticism.
Don’t worry if you haven’t perfected communication skills yet, you will have plenty of opportunities during your internship.
Breaking Down Your Comfort Zone
At some point, you will probably be asked to lead meetings, give presentations and maybe even present your thoughts to upper management. There will be times in your internship where you are uncomfortable doing certain things. This is the point of the internship! To build up your skills and become a better, more well-rounded person.
Anytime you are uncomfortable with a project or task think of it as an opportunity to grow. As an intern, your boss isn’t going to give you things you aren’t capable of doing, but they are going to push you. Take their feedback and roll with it, do the best you can.
Now if you are in a different situation where there is a particular person making you uncomfortable you need to address it immediately with your boss or mentor if it is one of those people than you need to go to HR. I have had to do this twice. Once as an intern and once as a full-time employee.
Do not suffer in silence if there is something wrong, you are there as an employee which means the company has a responsibility to protect you from this type of behavior. If you don’t know what to do consult the handbook, a parent or another authority figure. Never think that because you are just an intern this type of behavior is acceptable. Both times I felt guilty, but there was no reason to. Be an advocate for yourself.
Side Note: In one of my internships there was a manager, not my manager, that would always come up and put his arm around me. It made me seriously uncomfortable, I continuously would back away but he would keep doing it. I told my boss it was making me uncomfortable and he took care of it, never happened again. This happens to both men and women! I had a male intern once that was made very uncomfortable by a woman that would run her hand down his back every time he saw her. Not acceptable.
This is a partial list of things that make up an awesome intern, however, they all have the common theme of being consistent and taking initiative in your work. If you are putting in an effort trying your best it will be noticed. Don’t get caught up in being perfect, be ambitious about learning! My next post is going to break down workplace communication. If you still have questions hit me up!
Thanks for stopping by!