= Internship Etiquette =

Etiquette (et'i - ket'), n. 1. the forms, manners, and ceremonies established by convention as acceptable or required in society, in a profession, or in official life. 2. the rules for such forms, manners, and ceremonies.

It might sound a little strange to you that we are talking about etiquette in internships. Internship etiquette, however, is nothing more than the behavior and manners which are acceptable at your internship site. There's the rub: at your internship site.

For many of you, your internship will be the first time you have ventured forth into the world beyond Muhlenberg. All the rules are different there. People don't expect you to be a student. Rather, they expect you to act the way they do, as a professional in their line of work. The catch is this: seldom are the rules spelled out for you, and the rules are not the same for any two organizations. If you don't figure out the rules, you can have a poor experience and a poor evaluation. It's all pretty ambiguous. So what do you do?

Here are a few guidelines and ideas to help you get on track:

    Follow the chain of command. It is important for you to know the formal and informal reporting structures within your organization. Once you understand them, follow them! The unspoken rule is this: do not go around, behind or over anyone. Follow the chain of command in all your communications and actions. That means go to your site supervisor first.

    Respect confidentiality. You can talk about issues, projects, and the work environment, but refrain from talking about people. Gossip can get back to people and wind up hurting you. Don't be hurt if you are left out of certain discussions - some issues are for staff ears and eyes only. Finally, don't take sides; steer clear of interoffice politics. Remember that you are there to work on your project.

    Respect the support staff. They have been there longer than you, and they know more than you. They can be terrific allies in helping you break in, helping you understand the unspoken rules, and helping you accomplish your goals if you treat them with the respect they are due. Wipe the thought "just a secretary" out of your mind. Remember this: without support staff, the organization would not run.

    Learn basic social skills. This might seem rather silly, but if no one ever taught you such rituals, you are well advised to learn them quickly! Go to the library and read some etiquette books, or pattern your behavior after those around you. How you handle hellos, good-byes, and basic courtesies of speech and action can win friends or turn people off. For example, don't sit down in someone's office until you are invited to do so. Keep your feet off the furniture. Hats off inside!  Don't chew gum. In the dining hall, you can get away with reaching across someone for the salt or pushing your plate out of the way when you are through. In the work world, you lose points.

    Attendance and promptness are expected. Because you are a student, some faculty may not penalize you if you fly into class five minutes late or if you miss class. In the work world, that just won't cut it. Tardiness and absenteeism signal a disrespect for others' time, a lack of interest in the work. Promptness signals eagerness, responsibility, respect for others. At the beginning of the day and at all your meetings, be on time or five minutes early. As for being absent from work, serious illness or family emergencies are the only reasons which may justify absence. It is important to call immediately and speak directly with your site supervisor if you have a problem which will keep you from your internship.

    Learn to make a positive first impression. Practice until you acquire a firm handshake. Learn how to make introductions and how to introduce yourself to those you don't know. Be friendly, smile and extend yourself. These are all parts of those important first impressions which really can earn you points. Picture this: the Executive Director of your organization is coming down the hall toward you. You are alone. She is a valuable person to know. Are you ready to introduce yourself?

    Dress the part. Yes, this is important! When you walk in the door of your internship site, even if it is on campus, you are no longer a student. We repeat: you are no longer a student. Appropriate attire is different for every organization. Look around you. What are others wearing? What about their hair styles? What kind of accessories are the norm, including earrings for men? Model your dress and grooming after that of your supervisor and other professional staff, and you cannot go wrong.

    Lose the lingo. "Hey, cool!" might be a natural expression of affirmation on campus. In your internship, it will tell people that you are not yet professional material. Listen to the language of those around you, listen to your own language, and speak as a professional.

    Be a good ambassador. Be cognizant that you reflect the institution. How you perform and behave in your internship will affect the future of other Muhlenberg interns.

Think about the long-term benefits of good internship etiquette. Many of you will ask your site supervisors for job recommendations or contacts. Some of you will apply for full-time or summer jobs at your internship site. Have you proven that you can make it in that type of environment? Have you earned a positive recommendation? What you do today can stick with you for a long time. Make it count!


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