You've done it! Landed the summer internship or maybe even the job. You've busted into your tip jar and bought the perfect outfit, you are ready for your Real Life to begin.
On the path to my own defined career (writer, mom, stain-remover), I had my fair share of internships, menial jobs, and false-starts careers (who could forget crawling under a stage wearing a miner's helmet to scare away rats?). So I know a thing or two about only having a few weeks to wow someone. But, more importantly, as a woman who grew up to employ a buttload of interns, I'd like to share with you a few tips for leaving them wanting more.
1. We don't care what you're wearing as long as it leaves something to the imagination. We had one intern who showed up on the first day wearing thigh-high leather boots and hot-pants, suggesting, perhaps, that her next shift was at Scores. Here's a good rule-of-thumb: if you wouldn't wear it around your Grandma, don't wear it to work. Interestingly, this is also a good rule-of-thumb for workplace etiquette and will help you avoid any sexual harassment charges: if you wouldn't say it to your Grandma don't say it to your boss.
2. Expect to be confused. Very smart people are not necessarily good instruction-givers. Someone might be a fantastic editor, or designer of clothes, but that doesn't mean he can explain how to do either. If you go into your job expecting that you might get conflicting, half-explanations you won't take it personally and, importantly, you won't get flustered when you're standing in the supply closet and you can't find the paper because the paper has it's own closet. That your boss forgot to mention. Take a deep breath, review the instructions one more time, and if they still don't make sense...
3. Ask questions. But just the ones that help you get the job done. On the first day you're allowed to ask, "What is most important to you in my performance? What do you need from me?" Then no more probing unless you're taken to lunch or find yourself eating pizza with your boss late at night around the conference table. The entire job is a learning experience, but nothing is more annoying than an intern who treats her boss like a Magic 8 Ball.
4. Do not complain about any aspect of your job to anyone in the building. It might seem obvious to you that your boss is a psychotic despot, hell-bent on world destruction, but if you turn to someone to joke about it, I promise you will pick the wrong person. Wait until you meet your friends after work and then unload. Until then dig your nails into your palms and repeat in your mind, this is not the rest of my life.
5. But, hey, it's okay to hate the job. Part of this process is going to be figuring out what you don't want to do. That does not mean you chose wrong or your life is going to suck. That just means this wasn't a fit. The summer after my freshman year I had an internship on a feature film that was misery incarnate. I was screamed at and treated like an idiot by horrible people sixteen hours a day. On the second week I went in the bathroom, threw up on the floor, told my boss I had mono and left. In the short term it was the right call. But everyone on that film went on to be interesting people in my field who I see at red carpet events. They, of course, don't remember me. But if I had stuck it out and done a good job I could at least go up now and introduce myself: remember when you threw broccoli at me? How carefully I picked it out of your carpet? Which brings me to...
6. Knock our socks off. Now, this would seem obvious, but the number one complaint I hear from my friends, fellow employers of freshly-minted adults, is that their new hires don't come through for them. I cannot tell you the number of times I have asked an assistant the status of a project, only to be told, "I didn't get to it." What?? That phrase just does not compute to my 40-something ears. We had to work for, and be raised by, war babies who remembered rationing and severe deprivation. Their standards were very high and they were very scary people to work for, so scary it spawned an entire literary genre. So we spent our 20s working our asses off for no thanks and little pay. We came in early, we stayed late, and one of my friends peed down her leg rather than dare ask if she could be excused from an important meeting (questionable decision, but you see that her determination was in the right place.) So when someone stands in front of us eating her own hair and saying, "I didn't get to it," or "I have to leave early today, like, now," we are UNIMPRESSED. And believe me, we may not slow down long enough to tell you, but we want to be impressed. We are rooting for you. We know how disconcerting this time of life is, slamming from dorm-life into work-life. We want you to rock our worlds so we can help you get a toe-hold. Help us help you.
The girl in the assless chaps? We kept her. She went above and beyond every day while dressed like she was running a webcam business out of our bathroom and we still give her glowing recommendations whenever she needs one. And for Christmas we gave her pants.