How to be a perfect intern
The DP interviewed experts and alumni, asking for tips on how to impress employers and do well in an internship
July 17, 2013, 9:42 pm·
The National Transportation Safety Board fired an intern Monday after he failed to fact check bogus, racist names of pilots on the Asiana flight that crashed at San Francisco International Airport.
But being made a scapegoat is just one of the possible pitfalls of interning.
The Daily Pennsylvanian spoke to Penn Career Services, a Wharton management professor and recent alumni about how to be the perfect intern. This is what we discovered:
Be careful what you post
We’ve all heard that when it comes to finding a job or a summer internship, your Spring Fling album on Facebook is not doing you any favors. According to Wharton management professor Nancy Rothbard, even seemingly innocuous behavior can raise red flags for potential employers and get you into trouble at work.
Rothbard recalled one instance where a friend of hers, who works at a reform synagogue, posted pictures of her son’s Saturday morning soccer game on Facebook. The synagogue rabbi objected to the photos, arguing that it was unseemly for a synagogue employee to broadcast to the community that she was not keeping the sabbath.
“It does not have to be the fraternity party picture with drinking. It can be something more mundane,” Rothbard said.
Rothbard argued her friend ran into trouble because of a phenomenon she terms “invisible audiences.” Her research indicates that we forget we are Facebook friends with people — like her friend’s rabbi — who do not often post or interact online. When we post online, we do not consider the fact that our invisible audience will see our posts.
If you escort your boss to an important meeting at a restaurant this summer, don’t check in on Foursquare, Rothbard said. Someone in your “invisible audience” might be able to deduce information about confidential company business from your location.
That is not to say friending your boss is necessarily a recipe for trouble. In fact, in certain industries and office cultures, it is par for the course. 2013 College and Wharton graduate Jonathon Youshaei, who recently penned an intern advice column for the Huffington Post, is friends with his co-workers.
“This is very dependent on the culture of the company but I love being friends with my colleagues … because I get to know them that much better,” he said.
Explore company culture
Since office culture and intern duties vary, the only way to get the lay of the land is to actively observe and ask questions when necessary.
“For interns, one of the things to remember is to look around and see how other people are acting,” recommended Barbara Hewitt, senior associate director at Career Services.
2013 College graduate Isabel Friedman, who interned at both the Karana Trust — a public health non-governmental organization in India — and the organic dairy products company Stonyfield Farm knows that adaptability is key.
“I transitioned between an intense and bloody hospital to a fairly traditional company,” she said. “It was a huge shift.”
Learn the business. Learn about yourself.
Internships are a great way to shop careers.
While helping deliver babies in India, Friedman found that medicine was not for her. But she loved coding a digital patient record software for her NGO .
“It signaled to me my own passion for technology,” she said. Friedman started a full-time job this week at Dropbox.
Even if your career plans go by the wayside after a summer interning in that field, you are one step closer to finding your passion and acquiring general work skills along the way.
According to Hewitt, Wharton students, who are already well versed in Microsoft Excel, often learn useful shortcuts while interning.
“The greatest opportunities that internships offer is the opportunity to learn,” Friedman said.
While it may seem obvious to say that it’s important to work hard at work, your work needs to stand out and be memorable.
To this end, Youshaei recommends that interns suggest an original project or task which they can realistically finish. It shows initiative and creativity.
“An intern who offers to help on a project they see a finite end to, and the manager didn’t already see, that’s awesome!” Youshaei said.
However, it’s important to strike a balance between attempting to impress an employer and following directions. Hewitt receives phone calls from frustrated employers whose interns “assume they know more than they do.”
Especially at the beginning of the internship, it’s important to ask questions when necessary and clarify how tasks should be done.
Keep in touch
At the end of the summer, Hewitt also suggested having an exit interview with your supervisor. “Sit down and discuss what went well. It’s a nice way to end the summer,” she said.
After your internship is over, stay attuned to how the company is doing and set up a Google Alert for the company. If the business wins an award, or your former co-worker is promoted, you can send them a congratulatory email. Hewitt also recommends sending former employers semesterly updates about your progress.
Some companies make a practice of hiring talented former interns. 2013 College graduate Julia Eckstein interned at Google twice as an undergraduate. She is starting a full-time job there in August.
“A lot of companies see their internships as extended interviews, “ she said. “I guess since I got a full time offer, I performed well during the internship.”
Even if you don’t end up working — or wanting to work at — the company where you interned, former supervisors can recommend you for other jobs, so it is important to make a lasting impression.
“Everyone you meet anywhere that you work has the potential to teach you something or help you later on,” Friedman said. “A boss who frustrates you like hell may be your best advocate for a job you love.”