December 23, 2010

What Not To Do: Don’t Show Up For Your First Day Without Basic Skills

So you landed your first internship. First, let me say congratulations! Now, let’s talk about basic preparation. While you will be doing quite a bit of learning on the job (we hope), if you don’t have the basic skills down, you’re going to waste time during your internship when you could be learning more interesting things (and not make a good impression on your employer). Most companies take interns because they are over-busy and need help, so if they have to take the time to do your work over or show you how to dial a phone, they aren’t going to be thrilled.

Whenever I’ve had a new intern, I’ve tried to be very understanding, as I’ve been in their shoes before. However, there are some things that I’ve seen that don’t inspire a whole lot of confidence that I can trust the person with anything more complicated than handing me the mail. Here are a few things that will concern me, and most employers (these are based on real experiences and have not been exaggerated):
  • You can’t figure out how to use the photo copier – when there are even instructions above the machine. It should be self explanatory, but if you have a feeling you may have a problem with this, please visit FedEx/Kinko’s prior to your first day and practice. Yes, I’m serious.
  • The above also applies to computers and fax machines (yes, they are still used sometimes – especially in legal settings)
  • You sort of figure out how to use the photo copier, but the copies are severely crooked and/or cut-off. That you made a mistake with judging the direction of the paper on the glass doesn’t concern me. What concerns me is that you didn’t pay attention to detail and didn’t check your work. Or you don’t think it’s a “big deal.” If I have to ask you to go back to the copier and do this simple task over again because you cut off half of the page and didn’t notice, I’m really not going to want to trust you with doing some interesting research or even answering the phone. And that leads me to …
  • You have no phone skills. On your first day, find out if you have to dial ‘9’ to dial out. My bet is that you will. Most office phones vary slightly, so you may not know how to use the specific one at your new internship off the bat, which is fine, but ask questions right away. Don’t wait until you accidentally disconnect the CEO of a huge corporation or Justin Timberlake. Or accidentally transfer them to the mail room. Also, more on phone etiquette in a future post, but while we are on phone skills, do not answer the phone with anything on the level of “Hiiiiiii” or “Yo!” And your phone conversations should not sound like, “Heeeyyyy, it’s Courtney!! I totally need you to send me those pix f’sure. ‘kay? Awesome. Later!”
  • Your emails are worse than your phone skills. In this case, that phone conversation would sadly look like this: “heeey! Totally need those pix fsure. k? l8r! – court.” Just don’t do it. Instead, remember that emails in the work place are basically like letters that go back and forth very quickly. That email should be something like:

    Hi Sue,

    I recently contacted you regarding the photos that we need to complete your speaker profile. We will go to print on Friday, December 24, so it’s important that we receive them by Thursday, December 23. If you have any questions, please let me know.

    Best regards,
    Courtney Smith
    XYZ123 Records
    csmith@xyz123records.com
    212-555-1000
  • You don’t know how to alphabetize – or at least are sloppy doing so. During one of my internships, I actually was not only given the task of alphabetizing my boss’ CDs, but they used that as a test. Apparently their former intern was unable to do so successfully. Don’t be “that girl/guy.” It's because of those interns that you're going to really have to prove yourself before they may let you get your hands dirty with actually challenging tasks.
  • You don’t know how to use Word, PowerPoint and/or Excel. If you can’t type a letter, format some slides and put together a basic spreadsheet, you will be a fairly useless intern. At least learn the basics before you start. If you can become proficient, your boss will love you.
Those are only a few of the simple things you should make sure you master before you start your new gig. Obviously, those don't even begin to touch on industry specific skills, but the above need to be mastered first, and you may be surprised how many people don't have them down. The best thing you can probably do, additionally, is to ask for advice from as many people as you can who have office and/or industry experience. Maybe your roommate had an internship last summer. Or maybe your aunt is a secretary. Ask them what basic skills they needed and do your best to prepare. Remember, if you start your internship as prepared as possible with the basics, the sooner your employer will know they can trust you with helping with that interesting project you've dreamed of working on.

Good luck preparing! Feel free to reach out to Intern Like A Rockstar if you are in doubt and have some questions on how to be ready for your big first day.

-Anna
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