Top 10 Ways To Succeed at a Summer Internship

Filed under: Work Life, Teen Culture, Education: Teens

A crazy cluttered desk won't impress your bosses. Credit: Getty Images

In a letter to his college-age daughter, executive coach Gary Rich dispensed good advice as she embarks on her first internship.

We liked it so much we thought we'd share.

1. Be there. Which means don't get to work on time. Get to work 30 minutes early. ("OMG. Are you kidding me?") No. And while you're at it, stay 30 minutes later than most of the people working there or until your boss leaves, whichever is later. And if your work is finished, ask for more. I'm not going to tell you why because it's too early in this list for me to see you roll your eyes and want to poke them out.

2. Attitude. Your boss will never talk to you about your attitude. Lawyers and HR people put a stop to that long ago. But when you're not around, people will definitely be discussing your attitude. So make sure it's a good one. Smile a lot; even when it suddenly occurs to you that you totally should be the next American Idol and not be forced to do regular work. Act happy even when you're not. Be positive and ready to accomplish anything. Never, ever complain about anything. Offer to help other people out anytime you can. Positive energy is something we old people like to be around. So have a lot of it. Energy vampires are a drag and we want to drive a stake through their hearts.


3. It's not about you. I know, temporarily suspend your disbelief. None of it is about you. It's about a company where people need to figure out how to get the company to earn an acceptable profit. It's about customers and shareholders and many other things, none of which includes you. Figure out how the company makes money and what's important to the people running the company. Learn who they compete with and how, understand the strategy and goals that have been set. Know what your department does to help achieve those goals and figure out how the work you are doing fits in with all that. Forget about "you" until "you" leave for the day. Then it can be all about you again.

4. Politics and gossip. Never talk about anyone else unless it's to say something positive and supportive. Never say anything for that matter that you wouldn't want to see printed on the front page of The New York Times the next day. Forget about secrets, they don't exist. Don't even think about what other people are getting paid. It's not your business. Oh, and be as respectful to the cleaning people as you are to the president.

5. Quality. Focus on doing very high quality work. You are not the only smart person there. Some of those really old people (over 30) working side-by-side with you are just as smart as you are and were once doing your job. Be organized and clear and for heaven's sake, check your spelling. Every morning figure out what you are going to accomplish that day and every evening ask yourself if you more than earned your pay (or school credit) that day.

6. Your bosses are your bosses. Not your friends. Not your mother or father. They do not love you and might not really even care about you. Despite that outrage, your job is to help your bosses get their job accomplished. So you better know what they're trying to get done. Make sure you understand what they ask you to do and if you aren't clear, ask questions. If you have any ideas on how to improve things tell your bosses, then listen to what they say. Make sure your bosses knows they can count on you. And don't worry about getting credit for your work. Your bosses will know what you do or don't do.

7. Work is for work. Do not use that computer for anything personal. Right, not even Facebook. And turn your cell phone off before you walk in the door and I mean off, not vibrate. In case you're wondering what that thing on the desk is, it's an old fashioned desk phone. Do not make personal calls on that one either, if you ever figure out how it works. Oh, and I know I don't have to say this, but leave the iPod home. I know the music helps you concentrate on your work but I don't care. Also, don't eat at your desk and don't go outside for cigarette breaks. It takes company time, makes you look stupid and kills you fast.

8. Decorum. Dress nicely, look well-groomed, and only fill two of the eight holes I have somehow allowed you to put in your ears over the years. Make sure no one at work ever sees the piercing in your navel much less the ones I don't know about. Girls, showing your bra straps is not business casual and guys ... pull up your pants. This is not a dating service, or a nightclub. Keep your eyes on the road. As for language, only use words as they are defined in a dictionary. Don't say "sick" if you mean great, don't say "word" if you mean yes, never use any profanity and if you slip up do not say "my bad."

9. Don't be defensive and don't make excuses. Nothing makes you look more like a baby. When someone corrects you, thank him or her. They really are making you better and it's hard to find gifts like that in life. While we are on the subject, don't wait around to be told you're doing well; I know it's nice to be acknowledged but in the end you'll figure out that your own approval is really the thing that matters most.

10. Try to have fun. Make yourself proud. I know you will.

Gary Rich is the President of Rich Leadership, an executive development firm and Co-founder of The Leadership Room, a leadership development program.

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.