Interning 101: What You Need To Know

By Emma Martin, Student at Ithaca College

Less than three weeks ago, I arrived in Los Angeles wide-eyed and uncertain, but most importantly, extremely eager. Everything here is new, and each day feels like a journey into the unknown. A small trip to the grocery store or gas station reveals a new part of this vast city. Exploring Los Angeles is not a small task and getting lost is both inevitable and necessary.

My background consists of small, self-made or virtually-based internships. Here, I have been granted with the opportunity to intern with two separate companies. Gaining these internships was a job of its own.

I cautiously navigated through databases for months — collecting contacts, filling out applications and sending emails with cover letters and resumes. Phone and Skype interviews became a part of my weekly schedule. My elevator pitch evolved on its own. I decided to over-apply and grant myself with a plethora of options.

One thing I must suggest: let each company know if you chose to decline their internship offering. It is unprofessional to stop contacting the person you have reached out to, and you NEVER want to burn bridges, especially because they probably work in the industry you plan to after graduation. People move around a lot, and who knows where they’ll end up! I made sure to ask the individuals whom I had built a relationship with during the interviewing process to meet up with me over coffee during my time in Los Angeles. I know they all can offer valuable insight into my dream industry and making connections is key.

The first day of my internship, I made sure to leave early. Tardiness is not an attractive first impression! I sat in the waiting room before they unlocked the office, but at least I was on time and prepared. I had checked the directions carefully before heading out. Parking takes some time on the first day, so if that’s a factor, be sure to add that in as well. Also make sure to prepare the necessary documents. Paperwork is often a substantial part of the first day, so being able to properly fill everything out is a must.

While my internship dress code is pretty casual, it was suggested that we dress up for our first day. This is a GREAT suggestion, as it allows for interns to create strong impressions. HR had us tour the entire office and introduced us to key players at the company, so being sure to look the part was something to take seriously. Personally, I like to dress up regardless. I want to look like I am excited to be there, and I feel that dressing accordingly will emphasize my interest. Dress for the part you wish to play!

I also try to make conversation with the people I meet in the coffee room, at the reception desk and in the hallway — making sure to always introduce myself. Whether it’s another intern, or someone in another department, I try to remember to take a second to smile and say hello. You never know who you’ll meet and what connections you can make. Being friendly and NOT burning bridges is a vital part of getting the full internship experience.

I also suggest keeping open communications with your supervisors regarding questions and comments. If I’m unsure of a part of a task, I make sure to clarify with my supervisor. Luckily, I have one woman who is assigned specifically to me. However, at most companies, you will be given some sort of supervisor to help along the way. I’d rather be a bit annoying than do things incorrectly. As an intern, it’s expected that you won’t know everything right away … so don’t hesitate!

Whenever I’m free, I email the other supervisors asking if I can assist them with a project. Being proactive will allow me to gain vast experience in many different departments! I also let my supervisor know my personal interests and preferences upfront. She was SO nice and accommodating and told me she would help me to get more involved in the areas I am interested in. It may be nerve-wracking to reach out, but this internship is my purpose in L.A., and I can’t waste a moment being weary.

I bring my lunch every day. This is something completely up to one’s personal preference — I know a lot of people who prefer to stop in at a nearby cafe or deli. It kind of goes by company norms I suppose. A lot of our staff group orders or leaves, but personally, I prefer to save a couple bucks and bring something from home. I also bring a small snack, because at 5 p.m. there is a chance I’ll be hungry again — and nothing is worse than trying to get through work/driving home on a growling stomach! Another plus, my office offers free coffee and tea, which is a super plus!

A funny side note: My company everyone uses AIM to send quick messages across the office. It’s a super helpful tool, especially because our office spans over two floors. It’s kind of fun, too! I hadn’t used AIM in years, so it felt kind of silly at first. However, it’s become clear quickly how effective the chat tool can really be. I’ve heard from other interns this is normal practice. Be sure to use a professional screen name, preferably just your name or company email.

Interning thus far has been super fun. I love being given tasks that apply directly to my personal aspirations and interests. It’s great to apply what you’ve learned in class, and interning is a great opportunity to do so. It’s a learning experience, so be sure to ask questions and get what you want from it. Take full advantage of the opportunities granted by interning!

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