Nice girls don't get the corner office
June 9, 2014 10:28 AM   Subscribe

Tips for succeeding in the workplace (Special snowflake details: female people pleaser)

Do any of you bosses/interns/PEOPLE have any tips on how to do well at an internship? I'm starting mine in two weeks' time, and I'm terrified of messing up. It's a competitive but conservative work environment.

Sepcifically, do you have any tips on:
-How to make a good impression (coming across as confident)
-How to be productive and produce high quality work
-Office politics (I sometimes seem overly friendly, and other times too meek, or too cold - how do you find the right balance?)
-Having fun/enjoying my time there
-Any other things you wish you'd known when you first started working?

Thank you!!
posted by dinosaurprincess to Work & Money (34 answers total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
If you don't know how to do something or don't understand an assignment, ask rather than trying to blunder through it.
posted by insectosaurus at 10:32 AM on June 9, 2014 [14 favorites]

When you're finished with what you're doing, find something else to do and ask permission to do it, rather than saying, "Okay, I'm done, what's next?" or just sitting around doing nothing.

Ask to go to lunch with people and ask them for career advice.

If someone has a bunch of books in their office, ask about them.

Learn how to take interest in things that other people in the office are interested in. Or fake it.
posted by Etrigan at 10:37 AM on June 9, 2014 [7 favorites]

As someone who trains and manages student workers, I second the "ask, don't guess" recommendation above. I respect students who take initiative to work through piles of stuff or projects without my prompting, but only as long as they know what they're doing. If there's something you think you can do and that needs doing, ask first.

Read everything you can if there's a training manual or guide for a program or software; do some more research on what the company/workplace does, what they produce, what their social media presence is, what products they make... come in prepared, basically. Ask for feedback and be prepared to work on it (as long as it's decent feedback-- some supervisors are not good at giving feedback.)

Dress well. (But be prepared-- a lot of offices are I think still cooled down for men in suits, which if you're a lady in a dress can be less than pleasant. Understand the appeal of the Office Blazer, or Office Cardigan, and keep one in your desk if you get cold!)

Keep track of who you've worked with or under. I seriously regret not keeping up with people I did internships in college, because a) I owe them a lot of thanks and b) it's good practice to stay in touch-- you never know where they will go next.
posted by jetlagaddict at 10:42 AM on June 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

A lot of success comes down to properly managing and then exceeding expectations. Always be cognizant of understanding what the person you are working for is looking for and then make sure you achieve that. As others mention, it doesn't hurt to ask questions when you don't know and a lot of times people won't expect you to know so don't feel bad.
posted by mmascolino at 10:42 AM on June 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

terrified of messing up

Instead of trying to get things perfect, plan how you will recover from the inevitable mess-ups:

-laugh at yourself and be gently self-deprecating

-demonstrate that you can pick yourself up, dust yourself off, fix your mistake, and not dwell on it

-let your supervisor/co-worker show you what went wrong and how to fix it -- as unpleasant as it is, this is a great way to learn and have a lesson stick with you.

-get a story to add to your interview repertoire for "a time when you failed"
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 10:47 AM on June 9, 2014 [6 favorites]

Well, my female coworker's daughter just started an internship at our office. My coworker has been leveraging her network to arrange meetings and informational interviews with women in higher positions on the org chart, like our department VP. I kinda wish someone had done that for me when I was an intern! So if you get on well with your boss, you could ask them if they could help you set up such a meeting, if you're possibly interested in working there longer or if you want to know what it takes to succeed as a woman in this industry or yadda yadda.

Also, be careful about oversharing with colleagues especially right off the bat. You can talk about yourself, of course, but don't go all TMI in an effort to be friendly. (I may have done this before.)

Lastly, take care with your clothes. Don't wear anything too tight or too short. This will automatically distinguish you from many of your fellow interns, or it would in my office.
posted by cabingirl at 10:49 AM on June 9, 2014 [9 favorites]

Stay in contact with your manager. I have two interns this summer, and I ask for a weekly report on what they've done, and I like to have daily meetings to go over what's happening for the day.

Ask TONS of questions. Especially at the beginning. Make sure you note the answers, because answering the same question over and over again makes me question if you're paying attention.

Look for things that aren't working well that you could possibly solve. Even if your solution isn't adopted (most likely, it won't, especially given the short amount of time you'll be there), being proactive about wanting to go above and beyond is a really good thing.

If you mess up, admit it immediately and ask how you can rectify it. Everybody messes up, but not everybody is honest enough to say they did so and some want other people to clean up after their mistakes.

Stay in touch after your internship. Networking depends on the people who come to mind, and if you don't talk to me ever since the time you left the building until you need something, I'm probably not going to think about you when opportunities arise.
posted by xingcat at 10:53 AM on June 9, 2014

Do you hope to turn your internship into a permanent job offer? Ask what the internal process is for that, for example: your manager is Bob, the internship is expected to result in a full-time offer, this offer is dependent on a positive review from Bob. In this example, you need to (a) get a one-on-one with Bob and ask what specific, measurable milestones he is hoping you will achieve by the end of your internship, and (b) get a copy of the actual review form, if at all possible. Then plan your work and evaluate and adjust your own ongoing performance against these two pieces.

This second piece is important because Bob, being human, will never tell you that it's important for you adhere to [vague corporate values] but come review time, he will see a bunch of those on the form (likely copy-pasted from Corporate Mission & Values statement by HR), and they will be assigned a percentage score, so you want to make sure you meet his expectations and get scored high on all the sections from the actual review form.

Of course this is just an example... if you company does peer reviews, or some other form of performance feedback, adjust accordingly.
posted by rada at 10:54 AM on June 9, 2014

Some of the biggest mistakes I've seen interns make:

- They have submitted work to me in draft form. Not properly formatted. No page numbers. No conclusion. Whatever. Even if you are submitting a "draft" for review it she be edited and formatted in final form or as close to it as possible.

- Even worse, serious grammar and spelling errors. Typos. You should read through something 2 or 3 times at least before submitting it.

- They have fought with me when I provided feedback on their work. Chances are if someone reviewing your work says you are doing it wrong, you are probably doing it wrong. If you are positive you are right and do not understand the criticism the proper response is, "I think I'm missing something because what you're saying just isn't making sense to me for some reason. Can you explain again what I did wrong and how I can do it correctly in the future because I really want to make sure I get this right."

- It is ok and even good to gently and politely follow up with people. If something hasn't responded to your email after a couple days, send a polite follow up asking if they'll have a few minutes to discuss the matter. Things slip through the cracks. Chances are they have merely forgotten about your email and are not actively ignoring you. I personally appreciate being politely reminded I've forgotten to respond to something rather than have a freak out three weeks later.

- If you have nothing to do, ask people if there is anything you can do to help.

- Take ownership of your projects. If you've been asked to make copies for a meeting and you notice that your boss has forgotten to have someone set up the conference line and get extra chairs, offer to set up the conference line and get extra chairs. Although make sure you ask first and don't just plow ahead, you don't know how the office works and there may be other things in motion that you don't know about.

- Don't refuse to do small, everyday administrative tasks even if your internship doesn't include administrative work. I've seen interns refuse to put more paper in the copier and try to make a senior executive secretary do it for him even after a senior attorney made it clear that even the partners put in paper when it runs out. You can imagine how that went over.

- Don't spend all day at lunch and/or Starbucks. Even if you don't have a start time per se, you should be in by 9 or no later than 9:30. Depending on the office, this may be as early as 8 or 8:30. It doesn't matter than some people stroll in at 11. They may have been working until 2 am last night, but everyone knows you weren't. As an intern face time matters, even though it may not matter so much later in your career.

- When in doubt, ask. People may not be readily available to you to answer your questions. They may be busy and unresponsive to emails and phone calls. Gently and politely ask for meeting to get your questions answered. Get your questions answered as soon as possible and don't wait until something is due to seek clarification.
posted by whoaali at 10:55 AM on June 9, 2014 [18 favorites]

There are people who will try to teach you how to do things - listen to them. They may just give one small critique "next time can you do more X and less Y?" These people are golden. They will guide you, if you have the humility to listen and the ability to put their suggestions into practice. Like whoaali said, no arguing. You can explain your thinking "I made 10 copies because I thought there would be 8 people in the meeting and I figured a few extra just in case" but don't argue.

In my experience, people have limited expectations for interns, so don't feel pressured to know everything. But the difference between a so-so intern and a fabulous intern is one who takes ownership of their tasks, communicates very well, can put ideas together into a bigger picture (not just dump data on my desk) and seems happy to be there.

Office politics - lay low and observe. Don't jump in suddenly in an effort to show your 'confidence.' You will look out of place given your lowly intern status. Therefore, accept your low status and be positive and grateful. The watch how people react to each other and follow their lead without overstepping.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 10:58 AM on June 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

A lot of people, especially women, use "sorry" as a sort of conversational tic - don't apologize unless you actually screwed something up. Don't apologize for asking for clarification or needing time for a meeting, for example.

When you ask about how to do something, it can be good to proactively say "for x, would it be appropriate to do y?". It makes it easier on the person training you if they can just say yes vs. thinking about what to do and it shows you're paying attention, but it depends on the personalities involved.
posted by momus_window at 11:11 AM on June 9, 2014 [8 favorites]

AskAManager has a lot of good questions from interns and about internships. They're interesting to browse. Here are some answers to a few common questions.

I've never supervised interns but I've worked with a few. One piece of advice I'd give them is to remember to say 'thanks' to people who help you out. I often help interns with random things like the office wifi password or dealing with our cranky printer, and it shocks me how often they just walk off without a word. You don't have to go overboard and gush about it; just a simple 'thank you' works.
posted by neushoorn at 11:12 AM on June 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

I train and manage engineering interns. Google or read the docs before you ask. So when you ask you can say: "I need help doing this thing, I looked up "how to xyz" but the answers were confusing/conflicting/not relevant. How should I proceed? Is ABC the correct path?" etc.
Or "Is there documentation I can read? What should I research?" etc.

I'm super stoked when interns manage to start putting this in practice. And don't forget your please and thank you's.
posted by captaincrouton at 11:22 AM on June 9, 2014

Don't get drunk with your coworkers!
posted by something something at 11:27 AM on June 9, 2014 [9 favorites]

As a fellow female people pleaser now in my 30's, I absolutely excelled at internships because of that people-pleasing tendency. It was only later in my career when those same traits (attentiveness; wanting to impress; working all of the time but not showing it; getting along with others) have put me in the "worker not a leader" category. Still working on changing that! All of this to say that "#1 Intern" skills won't necessarily get you a corner office -- but they'll get you a foot in the door!

So, with that context, I'd say, here are a few tips:

- Come early! Stay late! This is your chance to impress people who could hire/recommend you later. Do NOT count the minutes on the clock. You want to be hanging out in the office at the end of the day to chat with others who work there.

- If there are other interns, be friendly/social with them but prioritize making connections with the actual employees at the company, especially your supervisor. You can always be friends with peers, this is your opportunity to build relationships with people who are not your peers. If there is a cohort of interns and the interns are always in a group, it will discourage other employees from approaching you and offering advice/help.

- Dress neatly and be as dressed-up as the other adults in the office. Don't wear crappy clothes just because you're young. But don't wear three-piece suits either unless that's the dress code. (Note: I was too poor to do this during most of my internships so I wore crappy clothes and I was fine - but I cringe when I think about some of the outfits I wore).

- Send thank you notes - written ones - after your experience.

- Agreed about being a self-starter. Come up with ideas that you can do on your own. However, always prioritize the stuff you are assigned. Nothing is worse than hiring an intern/employee do one job only to find out they were actually secretly hoping to do another job, and have them try to pitch you on the new assignments when they hadn't finished the original work.

- BE POSITIVE AND UPBEAT. DON'T COMPLAIN.* Don't show your negative emotions even though you may have them. These people are not your friends or confidants. They are potential professional connections. If you are going through a breakup; if you are scared of doing the job; if you worry that you'll mess up; go sit in your car and call your best friend or your mom. Then come back in and act professionally and with a smile.

- If you hang out socially with other employees at the company, always do so in groups and be careful not to get too drunk/relaxed/etc. You are being evaluated at every minute. Also beware of creepy men who may have an "intern fetish" and try to hit on you/corner you. Hopefully this won't happen to you but there are some assholes out there!

* Although, certainly complain if you are harassed, intimidated/bullied, etc. I'm just talking about the typical "Oh, I hate this assignment, it's so stressful and hard and boring" -- not appropriate to complain to your supervisor about that.
posted by rogerrogerwhatsyourrvectorvicto at 11:32 AM on June 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

Everything jetlagaddict and whoaali said.

You're not actually expected to know how to do just about anything you'll be doing. But you are supposed to show an interest. So show an interest, ask relevant questions etc.

I've had an intern tell me they are interested in working in a specific area that requires people to have a basic understanding of business jargon and economic jargon and understanding of current market conditions. This person was completely unaware of current relevant news coverage and unable to hold a conversation about the most basic relevant concepts in even the most general terms. Regularly reading the business and finance pages in a broadsheet newspaper would have allowed them to master the jargon somewhat, to understand some of the basic concepts a bit more and would have allowed them to show they were actually interested in this area.

Also, realise that as intern/in any entry level job you'll end up doing a bunch of menial things. Embrace these tasks as a way of helping the team achieve the overall goal, not as a demeaning task a well educated, promising person like you should not have to do. Fundamentally, if you don't do it somebody else will have to do it. Probably somebody who's no longer an intern but was actually hired into an entry level position. Use the task as opportunity to learn a process, learn by observation or whatever.

Also realise that it is critically important to have admin type support staff on your side as opposed to against you in any organisation. So be respectful and appreciative of people of all levels of the organisation.
posted by koahiatamadl at 11:47 AM on June 9, 2014

Follow the instructions that you're given; write things down (always--ALWAYS--have a notepad and pen with you when you're talking to your boss); listen to those you work with; respect boundaries (knock before entering offices and respect the time/priorities of those you need help/direction from; I managed an intern who wanted to barge into my office whenever she liked, during the busiest and most stressful time in my professional life thus far); own your mistakes (admit to them and don't make excuses; have a solution ready to go); ask questions; and observe and mimic the procedures and etiquette of the office (like letter formatting). Establish a firm routine, so you don't need to be reminded to do simple daily tasks (like taking the mail down or going to the courthouse). Additionally, maintain your professionalism (e.g., don't act overly familiar with everyone in the office, don't cuss, and watch your jokes). Don't ever, ever, ever be caught playing on your phone; if you have work stuff on there (like a calendar or Evernote or something), give your boss a head's up.

The worst intern I managed (but didn't have the authority to fire; my direct boss thought the world of the kid) was the twenty-year-old who would not follow any instruction I gave him (verbal or written), wouldn't write anything down, would not ask questions, would not admit to me that he had questions to ask, and had to re-do just about every assignment twice. He wanted to fix everything (none of which was broken) and thought he knew best. He went so far as to help a deponent testify TWICE at the deposition he begged to go to, despite me telling him numerous times "don't say one word at the deposition; not one word, except for when the court reporter asks you for your name and title. That's it!" No one wants an intern with that sort of "confidence," so make sure you're walking the line between assertive confidence in your ability to do the job and misguided bravado that you're the bestest best ever and can change the working world.
posted by coast99 at 11:52 AM on June 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

Special snowflake details: female people pleaser

I will give you the advice I wish I had gotten ten years ago:

Be careful of what you teach your bosses and co-workers to value you for.
I came in and worked hard and wanted to be an A++ problem solver. As a result, I ended up solving so many of their daily problems that it became hard to get out of being the go-to person for managing admin problems and logistical hassles no one wanted to deal with.

You want to be helpful and resourceful, but you want them to value you because you do good work in the main field you work in. You want them to value you because you contribute to substantive work, not because you make their life easier.

The short-term emotional payoff of being helpful is hard to resist, but it takes time and energy away from doing good substantive work, and it pidgeonholes you in ways that work against long-term career advancement.
posted by mercredi at 11:52 AM on June 9, 2014 [24 favorites]

I work with new crops of interns on a regular basis, in a competitive creative field.
Please do not let your daily moods interfere with your work.
Please do not tell me about your moods/problems/issues with something you find distasteful or upsetting or weird.
I realize that this seems so obvious, but every now and then, I get excuses for undone work or unfinished business matters because the intern was having "a bad day" or "a personal problem" and thus, couldn't do what was assigned. I don't know if these excuses work in college settings, but my deadlines are written in stone, and all the sadz in the world will not change our delivery date.
And none of these tasks involve anything distressing or repugnant. If someone is terribly sensitive about something--work it out with another intern, please.
And "people pleasing"--yessing me to death doesn't please me as much as good work, delivered on time.
posted by Ideefixe at 11:53 AM on June 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

Just to piggyback on what RogerRoger said, the people pleaser traits actually will serve you excellently as an intern. It's really transitioning and shedding those traits as you move up in your career that are an issue. So right now I wouldn't worry about it, but it is good you are cognizant of it in yourself. It took me a very long time to realize it was ok to assert yourself even if that pissed people off, however you should NOT be doing that as an intern.

As an intern your job is to make my life easier. 75% of interns do not achieve this goal.

Do go to Happy Hour. Do not get plastered. However, if you do get plastered it probably isn't as big of a deal as some people make it out to be. But don't make it a habit. Don't close down the bar. Leave after no more than 2 hours. Longer than that you risk either getting drunk yourself or will get stuck with the functional alcoholic crowd. Make an appearance. Have a drink or two then a polite excuse that you have to make your Zumba class or even better go work on that assignment for tomorrow.

Make friends with your fellow interns. That idiot doing shots and trying to get everyone to go to the strip club at 8:30 on a Tuesday may get you a job in 5 years. But still don't go to the strip club with him.
posted by whoaali at 11:57 AM on June 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

Any other things you wish you'd known when you first started working?

It took a while for me to learn this, so maybe it will help somebody.

Doing what you're asked, in exactly the way you're asked to do it, is a very low bar. The best you can do in that situation is to have not screwed up. Every other potential outcome contains the degree to which you've screwed up and not met expectations. Avoid projects where all that's being asked of you is to execute - there's simply not very much room to excel there.

Instead, volunteer to be the first into the breach. Take on the craziest projects, the ones that are the least likely to pan out - there's nothing but upside to those. Even if you fail, you will have better defined the level of difficulty. If you succeed, don't forget to leave a map for others to execute so you can go off on the next crazy adventure.

Now some people are really good at executing, and some people are really good at exploring - but the reality is you won't be trusted to explore risky stuff unless you've proven you can execute the sure things, first.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 12:22 PM on June 9, 2014

Oh also really minor, but somehow it took me years to learn this. Bring a pen and pad of paper EVERYWHERE you go. And take notes regardless of whether you think you'll need them.
posted by whoaali at 12:25 PM on June 9, 2014 [4 favorites]

Come early or be on time.

Be a patient listener and take notes.

Do not assume. Ask clarifying questions instead.

Always make sure you know when a task needs to be completed by. ("I would be happy to take care of that for you. When do you need it by?")

Make sure you can report on what you did the day before every day if someone asks.

When you meet with your advisor for the first time, ask them what they would approve of you doing should you have downtime. ("As I complete tasks, what can I do during downtime that would be helpful to you?)

Take some time to observe how people talk to each other and don't be too familiar with your coworkers. Friendly is good. Casual is not.

Do not make jokes about sex, drugs, partying, politics, or religion.

Ask for feedback, take it gracefully, and know that feedback is about your actions, not your worth as a person.
posted by Hermione Granger at 12:27 PM on June 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Don't apologize, ever. Don't offer explanations for why you messed something up (or something wasn't done, or whatever else). Just put into place a plan to fix it and let the boss know that it's being handled (either generally, or with the specifics of your repair plan). No one cares if you're sorry for something or why it happened in the first place, they only care if it's being fixed.

If you receive an assignment in person, before you leave the meeting, repeat back to the person the things that you're supposed to be handling. This assures that you (a) understand the assignment and (b) it's reaffirmed with them what exactly you're working on. For example, "Ok, so I'll review the employee handbook for typos and other similar errors, make changes as necessary, and provide you with a redline of the changes by the end of the week."

Have a life outside work and remember that you have a life outside work. Be cordial with your coworkers, but no need to be best friends with them. Don't overshare.

Most of all, relax -- no one knows what they're doing; we're all faking it too.
posted by melissasaurus at 12:33 PM on June 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

posted by John Cohen at 12:33 PM on June 9, 2014

So, the not getting drunk with supervisors/other interns is good advice, up to a point. I've had internships where not getting stupidly drunk with your (only slightly older) supervisors would have marked you as an outsider and probably worked against your getting a full time offer, so definitely read the office culture when deciding how to socialize with your coworkers. Seriously, one intern I worked with actually threw up on one of the full time workers while we were out one night, and she got a full time job offer (as did I, but without any embarrassing puking). The larger point of try to fit in but don't let your guard down all the way is excellent advice no matter what the partying culture (or lack thereof) where you're interning.

Also, never turn down an opportunity to learn something new. One thing I did wrong at my first job (that my supervisor pointed out kindly and to my great benefit) and that I see a lot of my interns do now is avoid learning a new system that's better in favor of using a system they already know and can use more quickly. Most of the time, we don't give interns time-sensitive or really important work because we know you're still learning - so take your time to learn and do things right rather than speeding through work as fast as you can.

For example, if your supervisor says to you that you should use R to do data analysis but you don't know R and can do it faster in Excel, use R and take it slowly. Trust (or ask and confirm if you're the skeptical sort) that your supervisor has a reason for wanting you to do something a certain way. I have my interns use R so they can learn a transferable skill and because it's easier for me to figure out if they've made a mistake by looking at their code rather than by looking at a sheet of Excel data. I don't give them time-sensitive work when they're first learning to code, and I make sure they know they have time to figure it out, but I get the "but I could do this so much faster in excel" comments a lot and it irks me.
posted by snaw at 12:44 PM on June 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'd say that at the end of the week (or day) write a quick email to your manager outlining what you did, the status of any outstanding projects, and if you're stalled, what you need to get going again:

1. Completed the gazingus pin inventory
2. 50% finished with the frammistanie report, anticipate completion EOD Thursday.
3. Meeting with Finance at 10:00 AM Tuesday to get the 2013 sales numbers for the widget chart.

If you have any questions, or need clarification...ask. "So, when you say take out the numbers for SaaS deals, do you mean from the entire report, or just the slide from the PowerPoint?" (I SURE wish I asked this question on Friday!)

Accept that you will screw up. It happens to everyone and no matter how well you're doing, you're destined to screw up because you are a human. I screw up all the time. Here's how you handle it.

1. Express concern. "Oh my, I totally missed that."
2. Explain how you will correct it. "I see my error, I didn't remove the Won Opportunities."
3. Discuss a timeframe for re-doing it. "I can do the report over, with the corrections and have it to you in about three hours, will that be okay?"
4. Tell how you'll prevent the mistake from happening again, "I'm documenting each step for the process for producing this report, I'll be sure to include removing the Won Opportunities from the report going forward."
5. Deliver the report early. "Here you go, shall we review together?"

If you end up working with an asshole, don't take it to heart. It happens. If your manager is abusive, or cryptic or in other ways not making your intership useful to you, go ahead and quit. This is your first foray into the world of work, and while you want it to be fabulous, sometimes it just isn't. If you can stick it out, awesome, but don't do it if it makes you anxious, depressed, or messes with your self-esteem. It's just not worth it.

Ask anyone you interact with on a regular basis if you can connect with them on LinkedIn. That's one way of building your network.

If you can think of a more efficient process for something, see if you can develop it into a suggestion. For example, people extract reports out of Oracle into Excel, then do Pivot Tables. You know PowerPivot. Work on developing the reports in PowerPivot connected to Oracle. Show your manager the magic.

Watch one, do one, teach one. This is how medical interns do it. So observe someone doing something (a report)--take good notes, do the something yourself (It will take you hours the first time you do it.) Once you've mastered it, teach another intern the something. Now it's locked away in your brain.

Ask yourself:

1. Does this need to be said?
2. Does this need to be said NOW?
3. Does this need to be said NOW by ME?

Chances are, no it doesn't.

Good Luck to you and knock 'em dead!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:51 PM on June 9, 2014 [4 favorites]

(This overlaps with some of the answers above; think of it as seconding their advice although it's mostly just crossposting)

When I did co-op internships during undergrad, the first question they would ask afterwards during the on campus debrief was: What did you learn?

Learn something. You have a limited number of weeks there; make the most of this great opportunity to learn whatever is available to you.

I don't know what industry your job is in, but regardless you'll be learning plenty about company standards, procedures, and the gritty details about whatever project or business venture you're contributing to. Work hard on the tasks that are assigned to you, and also pitch in and show initiative and volunteer and solve problems and all that good stuff, and that comes first, but also do some work on your own personal career development.

Spend maybe an extra hour or two, a few days a week, on learning and developing skills even if they are unrelated to your job and what you are working on. This is above and beyond your assigned duties, so work late and/or through your breaks on this. Does the company have tools, equipment, or software packages you don't know how to use? Read the manuals, do the tutorials, and try practicing with them on your own time. Browse the titles of the books your coworkers keep within arms reach at their desks -- now you have a reading list based on their indirect recommendation. Get along with your coworkers and maybe in a few weeks you can ask them to show you how that piece of lab equipment works. Make friends with the other interns, find out what they are working on, and see if they'll show you how it's done. Find the people doing the jobs you're interested in, and figure out what the gaps are between your skills and experience and theirs, and start figuring out how to fill them in. Take any free training that the company will offer you that's even remotely related to your aspirations.

Learn what's going on in the industry in general: what are the Big Ideas the company is working on? Not secret stuff, but what's the next Big Thing in your industry going to be, according to the people steering the company? What's going to be the trend/fashion next year? What are the problems holding them back? Who are their biggest customers? Suppliers? Competitors? It's so much easier to find this out while you're working there and can chat with people over coffee.

When it's over, you want to have performed well and made a good impression for future references, but you don't want your resume to just say "kept Project X moving along and up to date from June to August". Have a list of all the new things you learned, things you tried, contacts you made, and so on that are above and beyond what you had to learn and had to do because you were asked.
posted by ceribus peribus at 1:09 PM on June 9, 2014

Good comments here. Mine assumes you want to be working in this company (or one very similar) for your career.

If I had it to do again, I would have used the time to observe the people in power more. Like, the top 2 or 3 in your department (assuming a 15 person or so department). The ones at the top of the food chain.

Now, observe them carefully. What do they wear? (Wear that - dress older than your age). Do they act formal/stuffy/serious, or casual/funny around the office? What do they do in their spare time? Do they golf? Then quietly take up golf, so in a few years when you're any good, you can golf with them. Are they crazy into fitness? Good thing to take up. Are they involved with a big charity or class of charities? My boss is BIG into UCLA charity stuff. It would have been a good idea for me to be into it too. Haha, oh well.

People tend to promote junior employees who are like themselves, and feel most comfortable around people who are "like them". You don't have to completely redo yourself, but it really helps to have one or two things that makes you "one of us".

I'm not saying you have to be exactly like them to get ahead, but from observing the law firms I've worked at, the associates who make partner, in addition to being smart and hard working, are the ones who are just like the bosses in the major particulars. There have been exceptions, of course, but mainly it's the ones who are "mini-me's" of the bosses who make partner.
posted by bluesky78987 at 1:39 PM on June 9, 2014

If it feels like you're asking a stupid question, feel free to fess up and say something like "I think I have this right, but just to check, Thing 1 and Thing 2 can do anything under the sun - is that correct?" And if something isn't working or you can't find info, tell me what you've tried already "I know the monkeys want bananas - are there any particular variety? I didn't see anything in the BananaWiki documentation about this."

Practice rubber duck debugging - put your question together before you ask people about it, because a non-trivial number of times, putting the question together will make you realize you already have the answer.
posted by rmd1023 at 1:46 PM on June 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've found The Broad Experience to be incredibly thought-provoking and helpful with regard to the issues you're asking about. In addition to the self-limiting things you already know you do as a female people-pleaser, you'll discover a whole range of things that you thought were just your personality but are actually common problems women have in the workplace.
posted by juliapangolin at 4:00 PM on June 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

There are times to dive into a problem and drive through it in the obvious but tedious way (especially for interns) and there are times to look for a more elegant way that requires more setup. Try to know the difference.

Finish tasks. Almost done is not done.

If you have a question about how the business operates which does not affect your work, ask, but not when the person you are asking is busy.
posted by SemiSalt at 4:23 PM on June 9, 2014

There's so much great advice here already.

Learn how to take praise and compliments. This is a problem many people have in life, especially women, but all you have to do is say, "Thank you." Don't say things like, "Oh, it was nothing."

Keep your work area organized and tidy, even if this is against your nature, even if you know where everything is. When you're the boss (or at least a paid employee with a proven track record) you can have piles and piles of paper everywhere.

Don't ever take credit for something you didn't do. Likewise, give people credit for their contributions when they help you out.

Don't be a gossip and don't be a snitch.

Keep asking your questions here, you've already got a great head start!
posted by Room 641-A at 8:05 PM on June 9, 2014

I am also a female people-pleaser. I am finding that turning my tendency to people-please and seek approval into ability to find compromise solutions that make as many people happy as possible is helpful. I am in tech and I have never been an intern, but some of this might apply.

Take initiative and try to figure out things for yourself before asking for help. If it's not company-specific and you can google it, do. I will like you a lot more if you come to me and say "I have to set up this client on this system, but I'm not sure how. I read the documentation here and I looked up this info here but I'm still not totally sure, can you confirm I'm on the right track?" rather than "I have to set up this client on this system, how do I do that?". Show that you can do the legwork, you know how to research and find info for yourself and you're not expecting spoonfeeding.

Other things that help to stop the urge to do things for people right now to keep them happy:
- Ask people to prioritise their request. "How urgent is this? Is this more urgent than X?" Ask for a deadline, tell them if it's reasonable. Manage expectations. If you find you can't do something by the given deadline, let the person expecting it know as soon as possible, explain why, give them a new deadline that you can have it done by.
- Ask people to document their request in email or whatever ticketing system you might use.
posted by corvine at 5:41 AM on June 10, 2014

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