Summer Internship 2018 Series 4 – Ultimate Guide to Communication

Welcome to the Intern Series 4th post! 

Here is more on the communication skills that will help you be successful as an intern.  These attributes never go out of style. Communication is key in companies large and small.  Take the time to evaluate your communication skills. If your social skills are lacking a little, don’t worry I have included some tips and tricks. 

Social skills are going to help you explain an idea to someone, or communicate your project to upper management without feeling insecure.  Remeber in an internship setting you are going to work with a lot more people than just those in your department.  On an average day, you may need to talk to different people from purchasing, marketing, maintenance, facilities, accounting, IT, and sales!

Common Office Communication

Be open-minded and friendly.  Introduce yourself to people. It is important to foster working relationships with those around you.  When you can depend on and trust the people you are working with on a day to day basis it makes getting your work done easier.  However be aware of how much time you spend talking to other interns, don’t let getting to know your coworkers turn into socializing during work time. When writing emails do not use texting abbreviations or swear words.  Generally, you should also attempt to use good grammar and spelling.  Stick with the facts, emails can be saved and referenced later.  When speaking with people, follow these same rules.  Over time you will able to tell if a more casual approach is acceptable.  It is better to start out formal.

During your first few weeks try to go meet people instead of emailing them.  For example, if your mentor tells you to email Mark from purchasing to ask him for a specific PO number, ask your mentor to introduce Mark to you.  Making connections early on will help when you do ask for something over email.  If they just see your signature as XXXX Intern, chances are they are going to check with your boss before doing whatever you asked, but if you go meet them and they can put a face to a name you will get what you need quicker.

Be Confident

When you are confident, it is easier to communicate with others. This is not always simple to do.  Sometimes anxiety and the fear of being wrong can get in the way.  The only way to get it over it is to gain experience and realize that you are not always going to be right, and that is okay.  If this is an area you struggle with take the time to really understand what your project or task is.  Once you are confident in the subject, it will be easier to be confident in the work you are doing with it.

It is also important to not be arrogant.  As an intern you are at the bottom of the food chain, you are in this position to learn and grow. You should be a sponge, soaking up every ounce of experience you can get.  Having an arrogant or bad attitude can really leave a lasting impression on the people you’re working with.  As with any job, you will be asked to do things that are considered “grunt work” or “busy work.” It is what you signed up for, and chances are you are making you mentor or boss’s life a lot easier by taking it over.

Learn to Listen

Chances are your boss or mentor will have a pretty good idea of the goals and projects they want to you to accomplish during your time at their company.  When you are assigned tasks write them down, there is nothing worse than your boss having to keep asking you if you’ve finished an assignment.  This is an excellent habit to get into, even if they only give you a couple things right off the bat.  It is easy to forget to do small tasks after a weekend or even a lunch break.

Tip: Unless your boss tells you to bring office supply, the company provides it.  Ask if you can stock up at the supply closet on the first day, grab a notebook and keep it with you!

The tasks you are assigned have been specifically chosen for you and scaled to your abilities.  For example, when I give my interns a task, I usually tell them you are doing Project A, you will need B, C, D, and E to be successful.  The task I gave them is pretty challenging, so by giving them a guideline of everything they will need the first steps of the project are already complete.

If you have been given a specific way to do something there is almost always a reason.  That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t ask a question or suggest a different way but make sure you are grasping the reason WHY they are having you do your project in a specific way. 

Companies have to follow standards, especially if they are regularly audited. If they are not following those standards they can fail an audit and lose customers. Many times the standards have specific documentation and forms that need to be filled out. So if you boss asks you fill out boring paperwork, there is probably a pretty good reason for it.

Companies also put these standards in place to save time and money.  If you can accomplish something two different ways it is always going to come down to quality, time and money (and not always in that order). This circles back to the Math Doesn’t Lie section in my last post. Bottom line, make sure you are doing what is right for the company and not what is the easiest way for you.

Side Note: I had an intern in the past that was resistant to doing a project the way I laid it out for them.  There were other ways to do it,  but I wanted them to get the benefit of figuring out the best way to do it for the company. I eventually realized he was trying to go about it this way to impress me and my boss, but the items he thought would make a good impression actually made a bad one.  I explained numerous times the reasoning of following the structure, which in the end helps justify and move a project down the right path for the company, not the individual working on it.

It is important to note here, I am not trying to dissuade anyone from asking questions or bringing up alternative options, that is always welcome!  The problem here was the intern not taking into account the scope of the project, and that I had ultimate authority over how it was to be done and what he was purchasing.  At the end of the day, someone else will be managing your stuff when you leave, it has to be documented and completed in a way that other people can pick up where you left off or in this case troubleshoot your code.

How to Tackle Your First Big Project

The key to being successful on your first project as an intern is understanding the scope.  It doesn’t matter if you are leading the project or part of the team if you don’t understand why the project is happening you aren’t going to be able to effectively do your job.  See if you can answer these questions:

  • What is the reason for the project?
  • What does it do for the company?
  • Does it add value?
  • What is my role?
  • What are my responsibilities?

The first key to success is understanding what all these questions mean.  The first one you may have trouble with is if the project adds value.  To get an idea of what value-added means for marketing, private and government business check out this Investopedia article.

If you can answer these questions, you probably have a pretty good understanding of the project.  If you can’t, clarify them ASAP. Once you know what you are doing and how you are doing it, get going! Make sure you are using the resources around you and helping yourself!

Communicating with Your Team

If you are the lead on a project then you are going to be setting the example of how communication in the project is going to work. If you are part of the team, but not the lead study the project manager. Decide for yourself if they are effectively communicating, what you like about their communication style and what you don’t.

Communicating effectively with your project team can make or break a career.  If the people around you aren’t doing what they need to be because the specific information wasn’t clearly communicated the results can amount to thousands, tens of thousands or millions of dollars in lost revenue.

An example of this would be if marketing did some customer outreach and discovered that they could sell 17% more of a product if it had an additional button on it. So marketing does a write-up and calls a meeting to discuss the addition with purchasing – they need 30% more buttons,  sales – to communicate the addition to customers, engineering – to layout the buttons, trade compliance – the product is shipping overseas, and the business division unit manager.
Your team member from purchasing it out sick today, everyone else at the meeting decides that going forward with the change is OK.  The engineers have space in the design, sales is excited to tell their customers, global trade gave it a thumbs up and the boss is happy.  The marketing lead sends an email out to everyone on the project confirming the change. 
The purchasing team member is out sick again the next day. When they finally get back that important email is now buried under two days of work, and won’t be brought up again until next week in the team meeting. Since purchasing was out of the loop they did not get to convey that the there is a lead of 4 months on these specific buttons, so they already placed the order.  There are two other buttons that have slightly larger diameters and a shorter lead time but are more expensive. Also in the last week engineering changed all the drawings and had prints quoted.
Now the only options are to redo a week of engineering work and add more cost than expected to the product or push back the launch date that sales already announced to their customers.  Suddenly the boss isn’t so happy.

Whew, that was a long example but an accurate one, you would be how often similar occurrences take place.  In your job role, you are not going to know everything, that is why you assemble a team of people from different departments.  Every member of the team has valuable information to contribute.  If you are working as the project lead it is your responsibility to make sure everyone is up to speed.

Project Lead Cheat Sheet

Here is a general list of communication tactics for a project lead. You may be thinking my boss will never have me lead a project! I am a first-time intern.  Well, listen up! I have two first time interns BOTH leading their own project.  I am overseeing what they do and leading them down the path, but they are doing all the work. I am just an extremely thorough fact-checker.

  • Once a project has been kicked off schedule a kick-off meeting with your team.
    • Use this meeting to talk about the project scope and goals.
  • Schedule weekly or bi-weekly team meetings to catch up with your team. Use the meetings to assign action items with due dates.
  • Send out a weekly or bi-weekly update on the project progress to your boss and fellow teammates.
    • Chances are if your boss likes the update they will have you forward it on to upper management.
  • Keep all communication positive, and be respectful even if people’s ideas don’t mesh with the plan. Remember the Math Doesn’t Lie section from my previous post?

Communicating With Your Boss

I personally load up my interns with a lot of stuff, but I give them a priority list so they know what needs to be done first.  While this can be overwhelming to them at first I always tell them “I know I gave you a lot of stuff, this is an accurate representation of what you can expect in the workforce.  You are always going to never be done, but here is the list of in which order to accomplish them.” I also tell them that as soon as they start to get overwhelmed to sit down with me or their boss to discuss priorities.  Your boss or mentor will appreciate this when you are on the same page as your boss everything runs smoother.

  • There are most likely a lot of people in your workspace that can help you get the information you need.  Once these people have been pointed out to you remember they are available resources.
  • Set up a time daily, twice daily or weekly where your mentor or boss is free to discuss problems, priorities or questions.
  • Send an email, if it is an item that can wait a few hours.

Don’t be deflated by constructive criticism, your boss or mentor is trying to pack in as many lessons as they can while you are with them.  This ranges from email and meeting etiquette, to what to do when meeting customers and vendors.  They know you haven’t done a lot of this stuff before so don’t take the comments to heart, but make sure you take note.

Work Expectations

This is a significant difference between school work and the work you will be doing as an intern.  When you get an assignment in college, you set aside 3 or 4 hours, give it your best shot and turn it in, maybe you get an 80% or 90% on it. In the workplace when you get an assignment your boss is expecting it to take you 3 or 4 days, they don’t want you to just do it, they want it to be right.

In the workplace you are not going for partial credit, most of the time it is all or nothing if a project or task is deemed successful. Many times interns rush through their work and then feel like they have nothing to do. Your boss and co-workers will be much more impressed if you hand them a well finished, thought out project than a half-hazard completed one.

Final Thoughts

I know this is a lot of stuff to think about and you don’t have to be able to do it all overnight. If you start working toward better communication skills now you will know how to handle all kinds of workplace conversations and situations in your future.  If you ever get stuck, ask someone! No one is expecting the intern to have all the answers!

Thanks for stopping by,



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