Once you land a great internship, your job is not done. You have to be a great intern. Being an intern is hard, but simple things can make you a standout to your supervisor and your temporary office. Here are seven things you can do to become the good kind of intern and avoid being the bad kind of intern.
1. Be On Time
Being an intern means you are often just trying to keep your head above water. You are trying to learn, be polite, ask the right questions, and perform your assigned tasks as best you can. On all of these counts, you may win some and you may lose some. But at bare minimum, show up on time and be engaged. There is no quicker way to be cut out of experiences and opportunities than by failing to clear the first hurdle of showing up and being ready to participate. If you are not there or if you are always on your phone, your supervisor will quickly decide it is not worth the effort and your internship will quickly go down a bad path. Even if you feel like you are contributing little to the office, at least prove yourself to be dependable enough to be there and ready.
2. Know When to Be Quiet
Sense the tone. Offices have a general atmosphere, but pay attention to changes in pace and the events of the day. On a slow day, when all is well, your supervisor may enjoy bringing you into her office for coffee and a chat about your project. But on days when everything is going poorly and your supervisor is clearly focusing on tackling an emergency, just stand by ready to assist—and do so quietly. It may just be a day when your supervisor does not have the time to even engage in the most basic of pleasantries. You may never hear about it, but your supervisor will appreciate your attentiveness and understanding.
3. Know When to Contribute
The flip side of the previous tip is to sense when you are able to contribute and do so. You did earn the internship opportunity for a reason. Either now or in the future, the office or organization thought you could add value. Be ready for that one moment when your supervisor turns to you for an answer or an idea. You do not want to give the impression that you are just there to kill time. Be engaged in the work of your office and find ways to make your mark while you are there.
4. Respect Attorneys and Staff
It should go without saying, but show appropriate respect for the attorneys you are working with. No supervisor will want to work with a haughty law student who thinks they are destined for bigger things than this office. Be humble and appreciate the careers of the attorneys you are working with (even if you do have ambitions to do something else with your career). Likewise, appreciate the staff in your office. Your supervisor will see how you treat the staff—from the lead paralegal to the janitor. Show respect and you will earn the respect of your entire office.
5. Make Your Supervisor Proud
Put yourself in the shoes of your supervisor. Reaching a point in your career that allows you to take on an intern is an achievement. If you get the sense that your supervisor is showing you off to colleagues or people around the courthouse, he or she may well be. Make your supervisor proud to call you his or her intern. Handle yourself professionally when you have the opportunity to leave the office. Remember that, in addition to representing your firm or organization, your actions reflect on your supervisor as well.
6. Lean into the Office Culture
Every office has a culture, and as the intern, try to learn and participate in that culture. If everyone goes to lunch together, try to go when invited. If no one goes out for lunch, bring your lunch too. Similarly, try to match the unspoken dress code of the office whether it is formal or casual. When you study abroad, they always say to try to hang out with the locals rather than only with those students from your home country. As an intern, you have entered another culture, so try to embrace that culture. Integrating into the office will help you develop your professionalism and organically build your professional network by really getting to know the individuals in your office.
7. Don’t Disappear
When your internship comes to an end, fortify the relationships you have built instead of disappearing. It can be tempting to turn in your temporary badge, add the entry to your resume, and never look back. This approach forfeits one of the most important benefits of interning— building relationships, building a professional network. Further, those attorneys that took a chance on you and invested time and attention on you will be frustrated to be treated like a stepping stone. Instead of building a reputation, if you leave poorly, you may well be souring the professional circle you hope to join in short order. Rather, send a thank you note to your supervisor and ask your supervisor out to lunch or coffee a few weeks after you leave.
Internships are overwhelming by their nature, but if you remember these seven tips, you will be on your way to a productive and enriching internship experience!
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