Ah, summer—a time for pools, popsicles, bike rides, and fireflies. Though, if a summer internship is battling with your beach time, summer may look more like offices, deadlines, projects, and coffee lines.
For students who have mastered Boston College’s campus culture, learning how to successfully navigate a professional workplace, relationships with coworkers, and office norms can be foreign and frazzling. School coursework does wonders in preparing interns to write and think, but learning to ask the right questions or demonstrating punctuality is a whole other matter.
Joe Du Pont, Associate Vice President of Student Affairs and Career Services, offers five guiding principles for making a phenomenal first impression at the big internship and starting the summer off with a dose of good workplace karma.
- There is such a thing as asking too many questions.
Many supervisors encourage interns and new hires to ask as many questions as they have—employing the old cliché, there’s no such thing as a bad question. And this may be true or false depending on your philosophy, but when it comes to the reality of starting a new job, Du Pont advises interns to use their judgment when deciding which questions are essential to ask, and which could be addressed with individual problem-solving skills. “It comes down to having good judgment,” he says. “That’s why they hired you.”
Judgment is essential in striking a balance between asking a hundred questions a day, and wandering off in the wrong direction because you’re hesitant to ask for help.
With new employees in the Career Center, Du Pont uses what he calls the Six Month Rule. He tells his hires, “You can ask any question as long as you’re taking initiative on your own to learn what you need to learn.” Though he warns, “At some point you have to start standing on your own.”
- Relationships with coworkers are fundamentally professional.
On campus, students have equal status with all their peers and friendly relationships with employers. Fellow students are simultaneously classmates, coworkers, and friends.
In an office, coworkers are first and foremost engaged in a professional relationship. That doesn’t mean you can’t chat about hobbies, hometowns, or the impressive, gourmet meal you whipped up last night, but it does mean that some things are too personal for the workplace and are better kept unsaid.
“When in doubt, keep it professional,” concludes Du Pont.
- Showing up early or staying late never hurt.
Workplace cultures vary drastically when it comes to the hours employees are expected to spend in the office. Punctuality is critical across the board and in many offices nine to five is completely acceptable.
If you have extra work to get through and several employees arrive early, it doesn’t hurt to demonstrate your commitment by following suit, but working outside regular hours is certainly not requisite at most internships.
Most importantly, “You want to show them that you’re a valuable employee, says Du Pont, “and that’s usually done by the work that you produce.”
- Keep an antenna up for cultural cues.
The college campus is a marketplace of ideas where dissent and outspokenness come with the perfectly manicured territory. An office setting is slightly different. “You may want to be provocative and you have a right to be provocative,” says Du Pont, “but it’s also an employer’s right not to like that.”
Once again, good judgment is of the essence. It’s best to start conservatively, communicating and dressing formally and picking up on subtle cultural cues over time.
Of course, that’s not to say you should suppress any opinions you may have; instead, explore ways of bringing your own ideas to the table while at the same time respecting the environment you’re walking into.
- Curiosity is key.
In the constellation of qualities a superstar intern may possess, the most important one in the eyes of Du Pont is curiosity. Curious interns are eager to learn, open to exploring a plethora of perspectives, and able to think in creative ways.
Curiosity captures both the humility required to assimilate into an established workplace and learn the policies, as well as the ingenuity to explore alternatives and new ideas. “Sometimes an intern’s very simple question makes us sit back and think, 'Why do we do it that way?'” says Du Pont.
Not bad for the new guy.