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What You Need to Know Before You Start Your Internship by Olly Theobald

The first few days of a new internship can be a dangerous mix of nerves and excitement, but making a good first impression in the office is actually quite simple. Punctuality and personal presentation are obvious starters and the following list explores other useful and sometimes over-missed pointers; to ensure that your internship goes smoothly during your first week.

1) Invest at least 1-2 hours researching the organisation you are interning at

It is very important that you are familiar with the organisation before commencing your internship, including key personnel and upcoming events. Usually the best way to research the organisation is to browse through the organisation’s website and social media channels.

The first thing to look out for is any up-coming events. Not all organisations host public events but if your organisation does, it’s important to know in advance so you can arrange your own personal schedule to ensure that you can attend upcoming after-hour events. Although attending after-hour events may seem optional, staff are usually expected to attend, and attending these events is a great opportunity to develop rapport with your new colleagues.

The other important aspect to note—and preferably memorise—is the names and faces of staff and board directors. New interns can sometimes be hit by an information overload during their first week in the office and so this is where learning names in advance leaves you with one less thing to worry about.

If your organisation has a board of directors, it is very important to be familiar with their names—even though you may seldom see them in the office—as they will be regularly referred to by your colleagues and perhaps on a first name basis.

Being familiar with board members’ names and profiles may also help to avoid embarrassment should they stroll into the office one day and you respond to them by assuming they are a customer or an uninvited visitor.

2. Take notes

Before you walk into a meeting or a private chat with your internship supervisor, ensure you have a pen and paper in hand to take notes. Taking notes on an ipad is also acceptable but remember that relying on a mobile phone to take notes does not project the same professionalism as a traditional pen and notepad. It’s important to take notes as your supervisor may not be as friendly the second time they are asked to explain the same instructions. Taking notes also demonstrates that you are organised and conscientious.

3. Keep your workspace clutter to a minimum

Following on from the previous point, it is always important to be well-organised and this applies to keeping your workspace clean and uncluttered. For those with a slightly disorganised nature, this can be a hard thing to do and may seem trivial but it’s important to remember that not everyone in the office may share your casual approach to workspace clutter. Unfortunately, keeping things clean and tidy has never been my forte and I once ruffled the feathers of one former and elderly colleague—whose organisational skills were honed through years of service in the military—with my small mountain of reference books and magazines on my desk.

Korea is also another place where cleanliness and organisational skills are highly regarded and indeed expected. Both experiences taught me that highly organised and tidy people have very little patience for disorganised people and this is another simple point to keep others in the office happy.

4. Play it cool

Although there may be a natural temptation to show off your creativity and prove yourself in the office, sometimes it’s best to be cautious and listen to or accept others opinions during your first week. Persistent over-achievers and those who always have to make their own point heard during tutorials at uni need to be extra attentive to following this point. As regardless of how high your GPA is and how many ideas you may have, ultimately your ability to impact decisions in the office will be nullified by your status as the ‘new intern’. More established staff and your supervisor are unlikely to look favourably on you if you consistently try to out-do them and this even applies to fellow interns who have been in the office longer than you. This doesn't mean you should be entirely passive in the office—and in fact you may well be called upon by your supervisor to share your personal ideas and knowledge—but it’s important to always be respectful to the opinions and ideas of those with more experience.

5. Don’t waste your supervisor’s time

If your internship supervisor is also the boss or a manager within the organisation, chances are they will be micro-managing a number of tasks and projects at any given time and to keep on their good side it’s highly recommended that you make your interaction with them as efficient as possible. For example, if you need your internship host to sign an internship agreement as a requirement from your university, make sure you fill in as many details on their behalf as possible and take responsibility for the printing and scanning. Ideally, you want to hand your boss the paperwork with a post stick note highlighting where to sign and the whole process should take no more than ten seconds of your supervisor’s time. During especially busy times in the office it can also be useful to again use post stick notes with concise and polite instructions and leave any paperwork on your supervisor’s desk so they can attend to it during a more convenient time.

Similarly, you don’t want to waste your supervisor’s time with questions that could alternatively have been answered through your own research or by asking less senior staff. Although you may be able to find the answer in ten seconds from asking your supervisor rather than spending ten minutes via your own research, your supervisor’s time is always much more precious than your own.

6. Observe

Observing the behavior and interactions of your colleagues will help immensely in understanding office dynamics and how you to should behave within the office.

While not all the following points may apply to your own particular internship situation, strong organisational skills, flying under the radar and an observant approach during your first week should set you up for a strong start to your internship.

About the author: Olly Theobald works for the Australia China Chamber of Commerce in Beijing and is a Co-Founder of Asia Options, an online platform providing a one-stop-shop directory of educational and professional opportunities in Asia.

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