How to Attack a New Internship

So, you’ve landed an internship. If you’re a senior, that’s good – use this time to gain some experience before heading into the real world. If you’re a junior, you’re well ahead of the game. If you’re a sophomore, stop it. Entering the real world is no easy task. It’s the first step of many you’ll take along your career journey, and there are things you can do to make sure the first step is a good one. Here are five suggestions I’d give in order to do that:

1. Walk in Stupid

As I walked inside Wieden+Kennedy, the advertising agency in Portland where I’d my first post-collegiate internship, I saw these words prominently displayed in the lobby: “Walk in Stupid. Everyday.” These are words to live by. On your first day, forget everything you’ve been taught in school. Tell yourself you don’t know anything. Tell yourself you’re here to learn. Be a blank slate.

Many times I’ve seen new interns start, and they instantly interact and behave like they’ve seen and heard everything already. They act as though this internship, the one they just got, must be exactly like a class they took junior year. As though they don’t need to listen to anyone because they already know how it goes. While school does prepare you for work, each company has its own process and way of getting things done. Thinking you “already know” that process inhibits you from actually learning it.

Be open. Be willing to learn. Be willing to be taught everything over again. Ask to be taught. Asking won’t come back to hurt you. You got the internship for your future potential. Not for the knowledge you might already have. Be a blank slate, don’t assume anything and you’ll be fine.

2. Be a Sponge

Listen and remember everything.

Have you found yourself in a meeting where important decisions are being made? Pick out the people you admire and study their communication style, their body language, and their leadership techniques. Soak in everything they do and replicate that successful behavior in your work.

As an intern, you’ll be exposed to many more tasks, projects, meetings, and environments that you might not see as an entry-level worker later on. For example, I did much more meaningful and interesting work as an intern at Wieden+Kennedy than I did at the actual job I got afterwards.

Soak up all that experience. Have it form the foundation of your skills and expertise. To this day, I use many tools that I acquired during my internship and many of the lessons I learned during those three months to guide my decisions today.

3. Go Above and Beyond

One of the biggest complaints I hear about interns: “They just sit there.” In all honesty, as an intern, this is an easy thing to do. As a life-long student, you’re used to sitting at your desk and waiting for the teacher to tell you to do something. If she doesn’t say anything, then, holy moly, it’s a free day!

Not in the real world. If you have nothing to do, find something to do. In the office world, your teammates, bosses, supervisors, and directors are often too busy to even tell you how to help them.

When I started my internship, I was shown my desk by HR, someone from IT came by and turned on my computer, and that was it. I sat there. My entire team was so busy they didn’t notice I arrived! So I stood up, walked over to my boss and, with a smile, said “Hi, I’m here!” and asked what I could do. I got to work.

When you get your first assignments, go above and beyond what’s expected. If you’re told to find five examples of competitive advertising campaigns, find eight. If you’re told to forecast the next five months of the budget, forecast eight. If you’re told to write the introduction of the upcoming project brief, write the entire thing.

Turn in what you were supposed to (don’t ignore direction), but always include that extra work you did in a separate section of your response. Tell your boss that you went ahead and took a shot and completing the entire project. Say “I know it’s more than you asked for, but I thought I’d give it a try. Do you have time to read over my extra work and we can see where I can improve?” Completing things on your own and initiating your own projects will only help you. Even if your boss doesn’t look at it, they’ll know you tried.

4. Get to Know Everyone

If you want to be hired by the company you’re interning for, you have to make an impression. You have to make sure everyone knows your name. Near the end of my internship, the HR director went around and asked everyone  I worked with, even the slightest bit, about how I did and what they thought of me.

At the beginning of my internship, several other interns and I knew we had to get known. We wanted to make sure people knew our names and told the HR folks how hard we worked and how fun we were to be with. Our intern group created a blog and uploaded original content depicting the “daily life” of a Wieden+Kennedy intern. We taped a monthly talk show and posted it to the site. We wrote original blog posts about the challenges we faced and how we planned to overcome them. I also joined the company softball team. I played basketball during the Friday lunch hour with guys from work. Other interns and I hosted a party and invited the office. We said hi to everyone.

We made our presence, our creativity, and our personalities known. That’s one of the most important things you can do as an intern (depending on what industry you’re in, of course).

5. Have Fun

People want to work with folks they enjoy being around. As an intern, being fun and easy-going is nearly as important as being smart. Companies, across all industries, want to hire people benefit the organizational culture.  If you’re stressed out all the time, you snap at people and act frazzled, people will see it. If you get angry when accepting direction, get annoyed when someone is teaching you something, or get prickly under pressure, people will assume you can’t handle real-world responsibilities. It might not be true, but your outward body language says otherwise. Remember, entering the real world should be fun! You’ve worked hard in college for this opportunity. Enjoy it!

Show others that you’re passionate, driven and enthusiastic. Don’t get unnerved by making mistakes – you’ll make a lot of them. Don’t get bothered if someone tries to teach you something for the hundredth time – take advantage of it! Relish the opportunity to prove yourself.

Have fun. Walk in Stupid and be a sponge. Make friends and work hard. Do all that, and you’ll be successful. Trust me.

Cody Corona is a Marketing Coordinator at Rockstar Games, a leading developer, marketer and publisher of interactive entertainment for consumers around the globe. Previously, Cody helped lead integrated advertising campaigns for Old Spice and Denny’s restaurants. He graduated from UC Santa Barbara in 2010 and currently lives in New York City.

Follow Cody on Twitter or visit his webpage.