Developing meaningful interactions as an intern helps college students cultivate a true understanding of professional spaces and their potential roles within corporate cultures. (Courtesy photo)
Developing meaningful interactions as an intern helps college students cultivate a true understanding of professional spaces and their potential roles within corporate cultures. (Courtesy photo)

Many colleges and universities offer courses in professional development to help students adapt from a campus and classroom environment to one that functions competitively around both spoken and unspoken rules of conduct and behavior. While most hit their marks in touting the use of crisp navy-blue suits, congenial attitudes, and teamwork, not a few miss important dos and don’ts. The Informer sat down with human resources directors from around the country to fill in a few of those blanks and offer readers insight into professional development strategies for college interns and fellows that their teachers left out.

Make the most of the time you spend at the office by offering your service when possible. There might be days when you have down time. Instead of taking advantage and popping on social media, find opportunities to shine. Talk to other individuals in the department or another department and offer your services. There is always something to do. This previous statement comes with a warning. Do not take on additional work until you can complete your current workload.

What you say (attitude) and do (aptitude) is being monitored. Therefore, remain humble, and maintain an approachable body language. Aptitude is graded based upon the completion of goals. Focus on the objectives by being SMART (specific, measureable, attainable, realistic, and timely). Confer with your supervisor about expectations to ensure you have a clear understanding of your target. A poor final evaluation is often the result of poor performance. Thus, have regular conversations with your superior to boast about your successes and gain guidance through your challenges, which you have brainstormed and/or tried a possible solution prior to the meeting.

The right informal education program (i.e. internship or practicum) can lead to a job. Betsy Johnson was a former intern at a mid-sized accounting firm in Texas. Her summer internship was unpaid. She could have worked a paid summer job or studied abroad; instead, she completed four summers of unpaid work at the same accounting firm. After graduating with a Bachelors degree, Johnson was offered a job at the same accounting firm where she’d interned. Due to her work ethic and professional growth, Johnson started her career in middle management. The company honored the time she worked unpaid and considered her internship, relevant work experience. Her benefits package (time off, and retirement plan) and salary reflected this.

Open yourself up for constructive criticism. Being a professional means learning to take constructive criticism as a tool to growth, rather than a personal attack. Do not react but listen for understanding. If you don’t understand something, you should ask questions for clarity. For example, you could ask for specific examples to gain understanding. Becoming defensive or debating a point will not help your professional growth. Thus, you should acknowledge the feedback, determine if some points where isolated incidents, and implement a change of action to address the feedback.

At the conclusion of the program, you should have expanded your network. Networking increases your visibility. Connect with your co-workers instead of hanging around other interns. Conduct informational interviews to learn more about different roles in the company. Do your research so you may ask appropriate thought-provoking questions. You can also discuss topics you have in common. For example, you are delivering the mail and see a Texas A&M University pen on an executive’s desk, and you know something about Texas A&M. You should start a conversation about what you know about Texas A&M. Cultivate these relationships once your time with the company has expired.

Additional tips:

Arrive early and never leave early
Dress and speak appropriately
Learn the office culture
Show enthusiasm
Do your research about the company
Ask questions to gain understanding
Minimize distractions such as cell phones
Show some personality/be yourself
Take the initiative and get involved
Track your journey through detailed logs as you go
Be open to constructive criticism

WI Guest Author

This correspondent is a guest contributor to The Washington Informer.

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