1. Test the waters before jumping in with the sharks.

As millennials, we get a bad rap for failing to read workplace signals and act appropriately when joining a new organization for the first time. We’ll come in with big personalities and unload TMI in a desperate effort to become everyone’s bestie. Or we’ll be so quiet and unenthused – due to the crippling fear of doing something wrong – that others will wonder if we even have a personality. And most of us don’t realize we’re doing any of this.

So let me break it down. Every organization is a full-functioning ecosystem, and each organism – in this case, each employee – contributes to its survival. If any component is out of sync, it can compromise the company in its entirety. That’s why it’s so important for team members to be vigilant early on and study the behaviors of fellow co-workers. Soon, it’ll become clear what’s acceptable, what’s not, and – most importantly – what’s expected. And because everyone has a unique communication style, each person will require a different approach. Some will be psyched to hear about your weekend plans, and others will want to get straight to the workplace issue at hand.

2. Get excited.

Attitude is everything, and it’s one of the main factors you’ll be judged by as an intern. Your employer has seen your resume and work samples, so he or she is probably pretty confident that you can do the job. What they don’t know is how you conduct yourself and how committed you are to their vision and mission. My organization takes on interns like an animal shelter takes on lost kittens, so we’ve seen them all. But the people who didn’t make it past 6-months all had one thing in common – their attitude left something to be desired. They didn’t seem to share our passion for our mission of helping companies find, keep, and develop awesome people.

Interns start at the bottom of the totem pole. It’s an unpopular truth, but a truth nonetheless. That means spreadsheets, data-entry, and whole lot of tasks that aren’t exactly thrilling. Know that it’s your job to be flexible and exude positivity. To avoid being labeled “entitled” along with the rest of the 20-something workers out there, show gratitude for each project you’re assigned to and view it as an opportunity to demonstrate your skills and stretch new brain muscles.


3. Show them you mean business.

Be early. Nail down a routine. Track how your time is spent. Get organized. Don’t leave at 4:45 or take excessive vacation time. Come prepared to meetings. Get out of your comfort zone – take on tasks that you find challenging. Take stock of what your peers are working on and show interest. Make nice with your colleagues; you never know when a trusted connection will come in handy.

These are all common sense tips you’ve heard before, but from all the interns I’ve seen come and go, they bear repeating. Showing up 10 minutes late or taking a Friday off before your first paycheck may not seem like a big deal, but bosses notice if anything starts looking like a pattern. There are so many opportunities internships offer beyond building your resume or earning college credits. They help you build a network, earn testimonials from real executives, and most importantly, provide a journey of self-discovery that will bring you closer to defining your dream job.

4. Voice your creative ideas.

Unlike school, simply doing what you're told won’t win you any gold stars out in the real world. Your employer wants to know what you can bring to the table. Maybe it’s a marketing campaign that engages customers to become brand ambassadors. Or maybe it’s an error you caught while analyzing property investments. Whatever the case, the best way to make a name for yourself is by presenting work that wasn’t originally assigned. Internships are basically “tryouts” for full-time gigs, and many programs are crazy competitive. Coming up with ways to make or save money within your specialty is your golden ticket to making the team and winning the game.

5. Become a presentation wiz.

I already mentioned what doing the bare minimum will get you – zip. A new project is a blank canvas for you to make your own. If your supervisor wants you to put together a presentation, back up your information with research, add visual elements, and get someone with superior writing skills to proof it. The ability to present information in a concise, organized, and easy-to-understand fashion in a way that will grab your viewer’s attention is a valuable skill for almost every profession. Not so sure yours make the cut? Ask a mentor for his or her opinion and compare your work with theirs.

Follow the steps above and you might find yourself turning that internship into a full-time job at a company or organization you love.

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