The 10 Commandments of Internship, From an Intern

Real advice from a real intern...we're just keepin' it real here.

Starting an internship (or trying to?) Scared? Good. I was too. The interwebs are FILLED with tips on landing internships, how to be a great intern, and dos and don’ts. And, this might come as a shock, but this list is no different. But, if you’re reading this, you’re most likely interested in being an intern at Urban Influence, or a similar agency, or you want to know what makes an Urban intern successful.

So, take it from someone who actually was (yes, it pains me to say it in past tense), an intern here. And trust me when I say to take this advice. Thank me later.

1. Always ask

This might be one of the most important pieces of advice you could get for any situation in life, and there’s a reason you’ve heard it a million times. If you’re not 110% sure of what you’re doing, it’s better to get clarification before you spend valuable (and expensive) time working on something you may have to make significant adjustments to later. It’s better to be safe and ask a few more questions than to wrack up a bill for a client because you didn’t understand the task and had to redo something.

2. Write it down

Again, an old but true statement. I kept one notebook for my whole internship and completely filled it up. I recommend keeping a log each day of when you get in, when you leave, what you do each day, and how long each task takes you to complete (so you can easily track your hours online at the end of the day).

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This goes for instructions, too. If someone starts explaining something you haven’t heard before, grab a pen and paper fast, and make sure you get all the important details so you won’t have to ask them to explain again later. Keeping your notebook in front of you open and ready to go will ensure you’re never left scrambling for paper whenever you’re asked to do something.

3. Say yes to lunch

This is something I never thought about when starting my job at Urban. I had plans of bringing perfectly curated packed lunches and eating salads and oats every day. But I quickly realized that wouldn’t make my days as fun as they could be. Even if your’e significantly younger than the people you’re working with, going to lunch can be an excellent opportunity to get to know your mentors, ask them questions you might not think of while at the office, and have a great time. Eating alone in a quiet, empty office isn’t ideal, and the pigeons here know all the best spots.

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So when they say they’re going for lunch, accept the invitation. You’ll get some great food, and gain some fresh insight from these brilliant people. Trust me, they’re full of great advice and stories. Listen intently.

4. If you’re on time, you’re late

Oh, look, another overused saying about the professional world. But, I’ve learned for myself, it’s better to be the first one in and appear prepared and ready to take on the day than it is to stroll in after everyone’s already settled and working.

5. You will mess up

Messing up is the worst. It really is. That moment when you see what you did wrong right as someone’s telling you is like the entire planet has just been thrown out of orbit and you’re flying violently off into space and despair. But, fear not, everyone will forget. Really. People are too busy to dwell on an intern’s error as long as it’s fixed as quickly and efficiently as possible. Be gracious when someone points out a mistake and ask for help if you’re not sure how to fix it.

Pro tip: prevent silly mistakes by making a checklist of the small steps it will take to complete each task and refer back to it each time you finish one part, and highlight the random important things to remember.

6. Put your job first

Yes, an internship is a job. Especially at Urban Influence. At such a small firm, you’re not just a coffee runner, you’re a valuable part of the team, which means people are counting on you. And, it’s not a fun realization, but interns are much more replaceable than senior level employees.

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Look at the people you’re working with and take note of how much time and effort they put into their job, and compare it to your routine. Don’t just show up, work, pack up and go home, be an asset, and as much as possible, make yourself irreplaceable. If it means staying late to finish a project, so be it.

Maybe you miss your dinner plans once, but the extra time you’ll get spending with your mentors in an after-hours cram session will be well worth taking a rain check on the takeout with the friends you’ll see back at school in a few weeks. Plus, putting in extra effort will show your employer and mentors you’re a dedicated intern, which can never hurt if they happen to mention it in a reference letter down the road.

7. Remember why you were hired

Okay, maybe you’ve missed dinner four times and are barely sleeping because all you can think about is typefaces and wireframes (wireframe: Noun. A grey-box rough layout of a website’s pages in Illustrator to present initial concepts to client). Maybe you’ve messed up a few more times than you’d like to admit this week and aren’t quite sure if you can handle this job, this career or if you’re even ‘cut out’ to be a designer.

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Take a step back. Every intern has been there. Remember why they hired you in the first place. You have something that none of the other applicants do! You stood out, and got the job. You don’t have to wonder if you’re good enough because if you weren’t, you wouldn’t be here. If you’re really struggling, talk to your supervisors and see if you need to take a personal day or reevaluate your end date, but try starting with remembering all the great things about your situation. An internship is an incredible opportunity to learn from and you should take full advantage of it.

8. Don’t complain…ever. Just don’t.

I can guarantee you, complaining will not solve anything, and it’s an immediate red flag to any potential employer. It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve already redone the same layout or retouched a photo. If you’re asked to take another whack at something, do it without hesitation and ask for more feedback if you’re not sure why the last round didn’t cut it.

You most likely don’t hear your coworkers complain every time they’re asked to rework a project, and they’ve been doing their job far longer than you’ve been an intern. So, sorry to say it, but suck it up, buttercup.

9. Ask for opportunities

If you feel like your skills and abilities have moved past photo resizing and office maintenance, tell someone! You may still have to do those things, but your employer will appreciate your proactive attitude and will most likely reward it with more responsibility.

So, head to the bathroom and strike a power pose before finding your boss to ask if there’s any way you can up your intern game to contribute more to the team.

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10. Enjoy your work

Yes, internships are hard work, and you may have grades and degrees riding on it, but hopefully you have an internship because you’re gaining real experience in something you love. When the going gets tough, remember why you love the field you’re in. Even the most medial tasks can be enjoyable if you’re in the mindset of working toward the end goal: a career in your industry of choice.

Get to know your coworkers, become friends with people in the office, think about what you’re learning with each task and remember why you started.

So, there you have it, the ten commandments for being a kickass intern. Got questions? Interested in replacing me? Wanna know the best lunch spots near the office? Chat me up at hello.okemily@gmail.com! I’ll respond abnormally fast and probably with more information than you requested. Which is also a great thing to do if you’re an intern, so, there’s commandment 11: Be quick and be extra.

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