Learn all you can about the company and industry prior to your internship. Look them up online and read about their service(s) and identify the top people in that company. Gather information about the company’s focus, mission, customer relations, clientele, etc. Once you begin your internship, you will be glad you did some initial research. However, you will learn the most about the company during your time at your internship. You will learn acronyms, company hierarchy, work ethic, office atmosphere, employee satisfaction/retention, etc.
Beginning with acronyms, this will be your biggest challenge. Each company uses specific acronyms, or abbreviations, for all aspects of the company. Write down every acronym you hear. Keep a running list of each acronym you hear. If you work with a laptop or computer, create an Excel spreadsheet with the acronym abbreviation, acronym full name, and a description of what it is. Otherwise, keep a notebook with this list that you carry at all times. If your manager or boss is willing to tell you the meaning of each acronym and a quick description then ask and write it down after the meeting or when your boss has free time. If not, look it up on the company database. The more independent you are, the better. Figure things out on your own as much as possible, but do not be afraid to ask a question when necessary.
Company hierarchy is something that you will be able to identify almost right away. Some companies have clear structures and others suggest a more equal “playing field.” If your company has a set structure, make sure to follow it and show appropriate respect, but know that you should be equally respected. Don’t be afraid to state your ideas no matter the structure. However, if the company has a more level structure, such that interns and partners may work on similar projects and be in meetings together, then take advantage of the opportunity to present your ideas and add value to your project. If you sit in meetings with more senior people, learn from their actions and speak up with ideas. Knowing when to talk is important. Make your presence known without being overbearing. Show your potential and defend your ideas respectably, regardless of who is in the room. If there is a significant hierarchy, you may never really speak to top level management. In this case, try to express your ideas with your direct manager and know that the upper level management will hear about your hard work.
Additionally, pay attention to advancement opportunities within the company. Is seniority or work ethic and skill a deciding factor of advancement? Learn the structure of the company and find out all possible career pathways and how to “climb the ladder.” Work ethic is important regardless, but it is good to know whether time is a key factor in job promotion. These of course are all factors to pay attention to if you see yourself applying for a full-time job position after the internship.
Office atmosphere takes a couple weeks to figure out. Some questions that you will find out are:
- What is the job attire?
- This is an important factor – more so if it is professional. Always ask before, but once you have been there for a few weeks you will be able to adjust your attire accordingly.
- What time do people get into the office? And what time do they leave?
- You should always be early. Pay attention to when people get to the office and when they leave. As an intern, this will be more relaxed because you probably won’t be supposed to work more than 40 hours per week.
- Is the office atmosphere relaxed and fun or more formal?
- Joking around is fine from time to time, but make sure you are doing your work and staying busy. If the office is more relaxed then you may chat with coworkers from time to time. However, if the office is strict, be careful with talking and being disruptive. Also, some people listen to music with headphones or out loud. You will be able to get a feel for this.
- Do people pack lunch or go out to eat?
- Going out to eat for lunch is an easy way to lose a lot of money. Pack your lunch and find people to eat with at the office. Golden rule: You should never eat alone. Take every opportunity to get to know the people you work with and form relationships to further your connections and resources.