Office etiquette: Internship do’s and don’ts

It’s the first day at your first real internship in a real office setting. You’re so nervous, you are sweating through the underarms of your brand-new Express blouse — that the tag is still on, oh no! You were so busy celebrating your first professional acceptance that you forgot to prepare for the internship itself. Don’t panic and spill your iced latte all over the business suit you’ve barely broken in yet, though. We have some easy-to-remember do’s and don’ts for office etiquette.

Your iPhone should be neither seen nor heard by fellow office mates, so keep it on vibrate and check texts in privacy. The exception, says Matt Ishler, assistant director of career counseling and planning at Penn State Career Services, is if the device is being used for work-related reasons such as sales stats, a work calendar or any other relevant information your phone might hold. Have it on you in case of such a possibility, but bring it out only if needed.

Asking questions
You’re there to learn, to ask and to try the business out for yourself, so never feel bashful or stupid about asking questions. Take notes, and be sure to listen carefully when they do answer. Though  remember — asking the same things repeatedly can make you seem careless and unprofessional. “I never mind answering interns’ questions,” says Jim Lydon, an employee at The Bank of New York Mellon. “We’ve all been there, and it’s better to ask ahead of time than making the mistake and having to go back and correct it.

Every office setting is different, says Ishler, but learning the culture and behavior norms is vital. “Typically, I tend to say to be fairly cautious, and I encourage students to listen first before speaking up,” Ishler says. “But don’t withhold any feedback or questions.” Asking a co-worker or employer ahead of time about meeting communication is a good idea, he said.

Dress code
This is something you should ask your employer about ahead of time, but when in doubt, ere on the side of more formal. Avoid sandals, skirts above the knee, “loud” colors or prints, heels you have trouble walking in and large pieces of jewelry.

Asking for time off
Do this as little as possible, but if you have to, ask way ahead of time. “The earlier the better,” Ishler says. “I would say that at the point of time the position is offered, say, ‘I have one question for you before I accept, and it has to do with a time commitment to this specific time frame, and I’d like to see if it would be possible to arrange to have time away from work for this number of days.’ It is always better to be upfront.”

Making mistakes
Address blunders and mishaps ASAP with your boss. Ishler says it is a good idea to approach him or her prepared with two possible solutions to the problem, and questions on how to avoid it in the future. Also, Ishler advises, be careful to not point fingers. That will only create greater problems in the larger scope of your professional career, he says.

Other than these simple rules of thumb, all you need to bring is positivity, a good work ethic and a sense of humor for when things go wrong. You got hired, so they already love you. Just be yourself and come ready to work!

Photo by Lindsay Lipovich

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