Internship Survival Guide (Part 2)
Career | 13 Dec 2019 | By Guest Author
Internship Survival Guide (Part 2)

If you have an internship and have no idea what to expect, then you’re in the right place. Welcome to the internship survival guide, for those of you who took our advice in part 1 and got yourself an internship set up for the semester break (congratulations!).

We realize that your first internship is also your first taste of the working life, and that can be daunting, so in this guide we will cover everything to help you survive your 3-6 months as an intern, from how to get your life in order to what to actually do in the strange new land called the office.

Things to expect from an internship

No two internships will go the same way. Working in a big corp will feel different from a small startup, and a job in investment banking will be done differently than in design. Still, there are things that you can expect from any internship.

1. Life will be different

Everything will change during your internship period, from what food you eat to where you’re gonna sleep. Even the most adaptable of us still needs time to adapt, so take the time to start getting used to your new (temporary) life early.

If you have a new place, move in a few days before your start date. Try out and get used to the new public transport routes to the office. Find a laundry place. The first day will be a big day, so settling in first will take some of the weight off of your mind.

2. Introductory paperwork

Upon accepting your internship offer, there will be some paperwork involved. This is especially true for larger companies which requires you to sign this agreement, that agreement, non-disclosure, et cetera. In some cases, there will even be a medical check-up.

Pay attention to the deadline and don’t forget to submit the paperwork on time. They usually won’t remind you and might just write you off as no-show if you forget. Let’s make sure you don’t miss out on a brilliant internship opportunity just because of paperwork.

3. The first day

In big companies where interns come in batches, your first day might look more like an induction. That is a day dedicated to get new interns (and new hires) get familiar with the company, its business, its mission, and to consolidate the last bits of paperwork before getting to work.

In small companies, however, there isn’t that much barrier and you could just start working immediately after a quick tour and a short round of introduction. Everything moves quicker, so you can just ask your questions on the go.

4. Office clothes

Your first internship usually also means your first time shopping for clothes other than t-shirts and shorts. Make sure to stock your wardrobe for 5 days’ worth of clothes according to the dress code. Get a suit tailored if you don’t have one (which you should) for a business formal dress code.

If you’re interning in one of those companies where everyone wears jeans and hoodies, then you can just skip this step.

5. Money matters

If you’re getting a paid internship, then congratulations! Welcome to the world of money management. You get to experience the thrill of getting a salary every end of the month, paying off rent, paying your own food, and paying for everything else. In all seriousness, money management is an important skill for everyone, and experiencing your first salaries is like a live exercise.

"Please don't tell anyone how I live," says Lenny from The Simpsons as his house broke down and exposed his squalid and sad living conditions.

It won’t get this bad, hopefully.

If you’re doing an unpaid internship, consider this the opportunity to learn living economically. At least the experience is worth it, right?

How to survive the internship

The very first days will always be a bit confusing - this article alone can’t really change that. But here we share some pointers on what to do during the course of your internship so you can make it out alive, bringing more knowledge and experience than you came in with.

1. Take it seriously

Don’t think that because you’re “just an intern” your job shouldn’t be taken seriously. A (good) internship program gives as much responsibilities to an intern as well as a permanent employee. You’ll be working with the real deal, and the results you deliver will bring real impact to the company.

Robert de Niro and Anne Hathaway from The Intern (2015).

Be dedicated like this 70-year old intern.

Besides making a good impression and getting yourself some nice references (more on this later), taking it seriously is what enables you to learn from your internship. Other than job-related skills, you’ll also learn how to work towards a target, manage yourself under pressure, and things that you don’t learn in class.

2. Be independent

There will be expectations of you. You don’t get free reminders or pointers on what you need to do, like what the lecturers used to do back in uni. Nobody will hold your hand, so if you haven’t already, it’s time to learn to become self-sufficient.

If you’re forgetful, pick up the habit of making notes. Additionally, chances are you’ll be “plunged” into your job somewhat cluelessly - even with induction - so try to get used to learning things by yourself. Of course, sometimes you will still need help, so in that case…

3. Ask questions

Don’t be afraid to be the curious one! After all, you’re an intern, right? You’re here because you want to learn, and surely they will understand that. Besides, asking around to confirm things is better than trying to wing it and making avoidable mistakes.

That said, don’t abuse this free pass by asking small things that you could look up yourself or before you even try. People would love to help you if you really need it, but do put effort into it.

Patrick Star asking "Is mayonnaise an instrument?" to Squidward during band practice.

Try to ask smart questions.

4. Be proactive

Take the initiative! Raise your hand and try to take part should opportunities arise. If someone needs a bit of help, ask them what’s up. If there’s a committee looking for volunteers, tell them you’re up. You’re already knee deep in this internship, so there’s no point in shrinking back to your comfort zone.

The more active you become, the more exposure you get, which means learning and experience. It’s also a great way to make a presence, meet people, and you might just have a bit of fun volunteering in activities.

5. Get to know people

This may sound scary to our introverted friends, but the fact remains that networking is very useful for your career, and few opportunities offer the chance to network hard like an internship. Don’t be shy with your teammates or people around your desk. Have your lunch with people outside your team. We don’t wanna be that guy who nobody knows after the end of the internship, right?

Finishing your internship

Having survived the 3 months and coming out a new person with more knowledge and experience, it’s time to cash in on your efforts hand hard work during your internship.

6. Remember what you did

The main reason why most people take an internship is so that they can beef up their resume. In order to do that, it’s important to keep tabs on your tasks so you won’t forget what your job was actually like. Even if your original job description wasn’t that impressive, if you’re active and have been making the most of your time, you’re bound to have achieved or done some things that can help your resume look better, even if outside of your normal tasks.

7. Ask for a reference

And a recommendation letter. The ideal person to ask this from would be your direct manager who - if you’ve done your job properly - have firsthand experience of what it’s like to work with you and what you can bring on the table.

Obviously, this should be someone who you’re on good terms with. They would be able to vouch for your skills either as a reference or by writing a recommendation letter, which would be invaluable in your job search later on.

Living, not surviving

This concludes our internship survival guide. But if you really feel like you’re surviving - and not living - when you’re spending your day in that office doing what you do, then you might wanna check where your passion really is - read about it or find out directly. If you do what you love, then you already covered most of what this guide is saying.