By Laura Myers, associate director of student career advising, serving students in the School of Communication and Bienen School of Music.
**Hear more on summer internships from Laura and career adviser Mearah Quinn-Brauner in the second episode of our new NCA Career Chats Podcast, including advice on professional dress, maintaining contact with co-workers and how to leave your internship on a high note.
Presenting yourself professionally is a “must” when starting your internship, and I don’t mean just in your attire. So much goes into professionalism, and in most instances your communication and ethics are going to be two of the most noticed behaviors by your supervisor, staff, and even other interns.
Here are some things to think about as you begin your internship:
Verbal & Non-verbal Communication
- Avoid gossiping in the workplace even if others are. We all need to “vent” sometimes but be very careful as people often hear a lot more than you think. My best advice is to do your venting away from the office and in private. If you’re out in public just be aware that it’s a small world and you never know who is listening.
- Be aware of non-verbals. When a colleague says something that is upsetting to you, you may not verbally respond but your body language and facial expressions can give away your true feelings even more than your words can sometimes. Do your best to control your emotions and reactions.
- Master the art of listening. People often keep talking when they should be listening, or if they do get a chance to listen their thoughts are elsewhere. Learn to really listen and your contributions will be much greater.
- Communicate your thoughts and/or ideas in meetings and conversations but always think before you speak. Don’t talk just for the sake of talking.
- Consider asking your supervisor and/or other staff how they want you to communicate with them (i.e. email, IM, text, phone, in person), as everyone has a different preference.
- Don’t be afraid of face-to-face communication or calling someone on the phone. Take the effort and walk over to someone’s office or desk- BUT do not linger outside their door or wait outside their office if they are busy or speaking with someone else.
- Pay attention to the office culture and how staff communicate with each other. You might hear someone say something like, “this is the way we do things around here,” and the only way to learn how to do those things is to watch and listen.
Be Honest & Ethical
- If you need a day off ask for it off as a vacation day instead of calling in sick, otherwise it could hurt you (i.e. You call in sick so that you can go to a Cubs game, and then later that night your supervisor is watching the replay of the game on the news and sees you sitting in the stands).
- Don’t blame others for your mistakes. Take responsibility for mistakes you might make- No one is perfect.
- Don’t use your employer resources (computer, fax, printer, copier, telephone, etc.) for personal use.
- Don’t take home office supplies or hoard offices supplies at your desk.
- If you find yourself bored or finishing assignments quickly don’t just surf the internet. Tell your supervisor and ask for additional projects/assignments.
- Know all company policies and guidelines and adhere to them, especially policies on online use- Facebook, Twitter, and other social media.
- Don’t disclose any of your employer’s confidential or proprietary information.
- Always use proper grammar and check your spelling especially if you’re sending emails from your phone.
- Do not type emails like you would a text message or IM.
- Don’t be too informal, especially when you’re new. I’m still shocked when I get an email from a student saying just, “Hey.” A salutation such as, “Hi Laura,” should be just fine.
- Don’t “reply all” on an email unless it is really warranted; if you want to say something back to the individual who sent the email reply to only them.
- Always write a proper subject line, which is one that shows content and purpose (i.e. instead of just saying “Question” as a subject line use, “Question about the networking event tonight”).
- Keep in mind that tone is very hard to translate through email, and often causes miscommunication.
- Always remember that emails are never private, and can be found even after deleting them!
These are just some tips to keep in mind in regards to communication and ethics in the workplace but this list could go on and on. If ever in doubt about something, ask your supervisor or a colleague. And always try to make decisions based on integrity.