The summer internship season is now in full swing and I am finding I am getting some questions from students about how to behave. I am also picking up comments from employers about examples of behaviour which are “sub optimal”. Surely it’s easy enough to get this right? Not necessarily. Here are my tips on how to make the best of the chances.
Be determinedly cheerful
If you’re doing an internship then chances are that you are actually creating more work for your team, rather than taking anything off their shoulders. Time will have been spent organising activities for you and making sure that you get a good experience. Of course, you’ll be given work, but it will be being very carefully checked and not all of your output will be used. It behoves you to be polite, thank those who help you, smile when you’re given work – whatever it is – and then do it, to the best of your ability. Any job will involve doing tasks which don’t necessarily motivate you, on an internship if you’re given something you regard as mundane, this may be testing your reaction. Don’t roll your eyes!
Be pleasant to other interns
You gain nothing by being other than polite and friendly with the rest of your cohort of interns. Don’t regard yourself as being in competition with everyone else. While it’s likely that there won’t be enough graduate jobs for everyone, you’re normally best placed for success if you collaborate with others and show that you’re a team player. Often by the time you get to an internship, the graduate job is yours to lose rather than being something to fight for.
You need to show that you’re someone who is pleasant to be around. You might have heard of the “flight test”. How does the employer assessing you feel about the prospect of sitting next to you on an intercontinental flight? If you’ve come across as someone out for yourself and prepared to trample on everyone around you, then you might just find you fail this test.
Don’t “badmouth” anyone and be discreet
Don’t be tempted to criticise other trainees or other law firms, it’s likely to make you come across as someone who will not be able to be trusted to hold a confidence. Far from lowering others in the estimation of employers it could be you that is most damaged. Remember that many professions are the proverbial “small worlds”. This is absolutely true of law. You can never be sure of who knows whom!
Take part in the social activities
These aren’t really optional. If you’ve been given work to do and you’re not done in time, then make sure you drop graduate recruitment an email to explain your absence and turn up if and when you can. If you’re free to go then you should turn up – even if it’s your mum’s birthday! Tell her you’ll celebrate at the weekend! If you find networking difficult try not to worry. Everyone there will be trying to put you at your ease and you can expect that they’ll open the conversations for you. Just make sure that you answer questions and try not to close the conversation down. Show an interest in the person talking to you!
Remember that while you want to impress and get to meet lots of people they have work to do. Be sensitive to that and also to how you collect contacts. If you’re going to ask people to connect on LinkedIn (and that can be a good idea) then make sure you personalise your connect requests and don’t just send the standard words. If you’re sending the connect request a week or so after you left and you only met someone briefly, it might also be helpful to remind them of who you are!
Follow up with a thank you
Whether or not you know the “outcome” of your internship, in terms of any possible job offer it’s really nice to thank those with whom you sat while you were there. Think about the most appropriate way to do this. You might want to drop some nice emails through to a few people before you go. Perhaps you would prefer to use your personal email to send some emails when you get home? It might be appropriate to write a personal card and send it in? Do what feels comfortable and right to you but do something!
Good luck and enjoy the experiences.