Wednesday, July 14, 2010 myBiz Blog
Lessons about interning...from the interns by Katie Coon

Be on time… complete your assignments… dress well: these are basic rules that you need to follow to have a successful summer internship. However, what are some of the tricks and tips that you do not necessarily learn in the classroom or from the BCC (which, by the way, is amazing)?

This week, I asked Wisconsin School of Business senior Greg Buckner to provide some of his own personal tips for surviving a summer internship. Greg, who is interning in Chicago at Wells Fargo as a Corporate Banking Summer Credit Analyst (cue the OOOOOOOOOOs and AHHHHHHs), explained his top three tips to me.

Additionally, I provided a few lessons that I learned from my own experience as a Search Analyst Intern at SMG-Search, a division of Starcom MediaVest Group, located globally in downtown Chicago.

If you, the reader, have any additional advice, please feel free to leave a comment below.

Greg’s Advice

Ask Your Co-workers To Lunch

This doesn't just apply to people new hires or people only a few years into your internship. You can learn interesting facts (like potential career paths from this job, what people in your office are looking for, and what former interns did that either got them or lost them the job offer) from simply asking someone older to lunch. Especially important is asking people who are in different functional areas or parts of your office (like asking people in marketing, human resources, finance, etc.). This is a great way to see what it would be like to work in your office long-term and illustrates to your co-workers why you would be a great addition to the office.

Ask Your Boss For Feedback

Some offices will have a feedback system or evaluation built directly into the internship. However, quite a few summer internships do not provide this opportunity. Personally, I usually ask for input three weeks into the internship and midway through.  This is an important step during the summer that can help you correct your internship if you're headed off course . Additionally, asking for feedback shows that you take input seriously and can learn from your mistakes (assuming you take the input to heart). Better to ask and show your boss you're dedicated to earning your job offer than never asking and getting a "no" at the end of the summer with no warning!

Find A Mentor

If you can form a close professional relationship with someone in your office outside of the people you report to and your co-workers, they can become a valuable sounding board for any thoughts or questions you have that you don't want to share with the people you work with. Also, talking with a mentor provides a great way to get feedback and find out how you're really doing.

Zack’s Advice

Learn the Office Culture

No one likes a showoff. The first day that you walk into your internship, disregard any norms that you may have learned in a student organization and instead try to absorb your surroundings. This means that you should watch how your co-workers dress, interact with one another, conduct themselves, etc. For example, the office that I work in has a casual (not business casual… think jeans and a polo) dress code. On the first day, many of my superiors told me that I need to dress down. Now this doesn’t mean that I look like I’ve rolled out of bed. All of my clothes are ironed before I walk out the door. I wear very nice jeans. And I always wear nice shoes. The point I’m trying to get across is that every office and internship functions differently, so you shouldn’t come in to your job with preconceived notions of how people will communicate and function with one another.

Get A Candy Dish

If I have one piece of advice that I want to share with other students, it would be this: GO OUT AND BUY A CANDY DISH FOR YOUR SECOND DAY OF WORK. I’m not saying that you need to be chewing on food all day long. Instead, the candy dish acts as a catalyst for conversations with your co-workers and provides you, the intern, with a platform to meet workers that do not necessarily interact with you on a consistent basis. I’ve found that some of my most influential and inspiring lessons have come from a conversation that occurred when a staff member took a piece of candy from my desk. In my situation, I’ve placed a sign on my wall, visible to anyone that walks by, that says “Talk to Interns and get FREE CANDY.”

Don’t Date Your Co-workers

I’m going to be blunt: this is a no-no, regardless of if she or he is the most attractive/inspiring person that you’ve met on the face of the planet. As much as I hate to say this, everyone, at some point, gossips in the office place. When you are an intern, this will tarnish your professional image and you will be known as “that intern.” Save yourself an awkward moment.

Happy Hours ≠ Booze Fests

First: if you’re not 21, don’t drink at a company event. You’re putting yourself at legal risk.

Second: if you are 21 and work in an office, you’ll probably encounter a company happy hour or social event where there’s going to be alcohol. Play it safe and don’t go over the top with drinking. In my mind, a good rule of thumb is to limit yourself to 1 or 2 drinks, depending on your tolerance and weight. Also, keep in mind the last time that you ate a meal. If your stomach only has a Chicken Caesar salad from lunch in it, you may want to slam down a quick granola bar or other carb before you head to the happy hour. Social hours are a great way to show your personal interests, such as sports or art, and that you’re more than just a summer intern. You don’t want to have other co-workers remember what you forgot from the previous night.

Zack is currently a student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison studying strategic communications and reporting within the School of Journalism and Mass Communication. In addition to his studies at the SJMC, Zack is pursing a Certificate in Business from the Wisconsin School of Business.

Throughout the summer, Zack plans to write about his experiences interning at Starcom MediaVest, a global media planning firm.