Prime Positioning

7 essential business etiquette tips for nailing your summer (or any) internship

Illustration by Tony Healey

Melanie Warner Spencer is editor of New Orleans Bride and New Orleans Homes & Lifestyles and managing editor of Louisiana Life and Acadiana Profile. Spencer’s ever-expanding library of etiquette books is rivaled only by her ever-ready stash of blank thank-you notes. Submit business etiquette questions to


It’s again that time of year when college students across the country are interviewing for or beginning summer internships. When well navigated, an internship can be one of the most valuable experiences in a person’s career, resulting in new knowledge and skills and — perhaps most importantly — industry connections. It can also be a traumatizing disaster. Here are a few tips for those embarking upon an internship.

1. TIME IS MONEY. Be a little early or at least on time and prepare to stay a little late each workday. This doesn’t mean allow yourself to be taken advantage of, but it’s important to be prompt and not bolt out the door the minute the clock strikes 5 p.m. Stay until either the task you are working on is finished or the majority of the staff is leaving; it will illustrate your work ethic and commitment to the internship and show that you value the company’s time and resources. When you finish a task or project, ask for a new one rather than waiting around for directives. This will show initiative, as will volunteering when you hear your manager or coworkers discussing new projects.

2. DRESS FOR SUCCESS. During the inter- view process, pay attention to the attire of the hiring manager and any other employees you see, and ask about the dress code. Err on the side of dressier, rather than more casual. What you wear to work each day will send a message, whether you realize it or not, and you want that message to be a positive one. Dressing appropriate to the industry and the specific culture of that company are both important.

3. LEARNING IS KEY. Curiosity and readiness to learn are essential in an internship. You are not there to prove how much you know, rather to gain a deeper understanding and working knowledge of the industry. There will be many times you will feel clueless or out of your depth and the people around you will toss around industry jargon that isn’t familiar to you. Don’t pretend to know how do to something or to understand what your managers or peers are talking about if it is out of your realm of experience. You’ll save the company and yourself time. That said, work to strike a balance between things to ask about and things to research on your own.

4. NETWORK, NETWORK, NETWORK. Make it a point to get to know people throughout the company. Start with the department you are working in and then cast a wider net into other departments. Befriending the gatekeepers (i.e. administrative assistants) is always a great strategy because they can either block or allow access to the people they work for — the company leaders. Administrative assistants usually know all of the major players in a company and can answer questions and offer guidance and information. (This does not mean gossip. It is bad form to start or engage in gossip as an intern, and as an employee.) Getting to know your coworkers can lead to a more enriching internship experience and helps ensure that when positions open up, you are one of the people everyone remembers.

5. PAIR UP. If a mentor is not assigned to you, then ask for one or find one. A mentor can answer a lot of the questions you may feel shy asking others and can offer critical information, feedback and guidance to help keep you on course. A mentor can also serve as a connector and reference when it comes to finding and securing a job in the field.

6. GO ALL PRO. Be professional in your phone, email and person-to-person communications, even if those around you have a casual demeanor and delivery. Always act as though the CEO of the company is on the call, reading the email or in the room when you are speaking.

7. FOLLOW UP. Finally, stay in touch with the people you meet during your internships. Networking with them and periodically checking in is a great way to get recommendations and references, make connections and, potentially, get hired at the company where you interned.

With these tools and tips in your arsenal, you’ll come out of your internship with valuable experience and contacts under your belt and, in some cases, maybe even a job.