Want to be more successful at work? Think like an intern

We’ve talked about the benefits of pursuing an internship to advance your career. But how could we do well at work by simply thinking like an intern? Lucas Havens, Board Member at the Twin Cities chapter of the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network, shares some of the benefits of adopting an intern’s mindset.

This piece is cross-posted from the YNPN Twin Cities blog.

YNPN Twin Cities Blog
YNPN Twin Cities Blog

by Lucas Havens
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Hearing about YNPN’s recent “The First Seven Seconds” event made me think of my day job, where I coach high school students through tech internships in major corporations. Why? Both the event and my role as a trainer remind me the “secrets” to success aren’t really very secret. They’re simple—so simple, in fact, they’re easy to forget, especially once we’ve had a year or two to get comfortable in a job.

But if you’re thinking like an intern, it means you’re paying attention to all those little things—little things which, according to perennial feedback from many of my organization’s corporate partners, are the things that really matter. So here’s a list derived from training 100+ successful interns over the past several years. Pay attention to one item each day over the next week, and see if it helps you get back into an entry-level mindset.

  1. Show up. Yeah, I know. This might seem too basic. But even in mid-level jobs, it is often a differentiator. I’m sure you know someone who has taken an extra “sick” day in the past month, come in 20 minutes late to a meeting, or cancelled something at the last minute. Don’t make it a habit.
  2. Dress up. Some days, it’s worth it to show you’re just a little more serious. Have an extra special meeting? Throw on a blazer. Or don’t even wait for something special: when I come into the office wearing a suit, it makes the day’s meetings important.
  3. Listen. Supposedly, I learned this in first grade. But that doesn’t stop me from periodically slouching during meetings or thoughtlessly whipping out my cell phone in the middle of a conversation. We teach interns an acronym from Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) classes: SLANT. Sit up, Lean forward, Ask questions, Nod, and Take notes. Did you write anything down at your last meeting?
  4. Speak in person. Google Chat, text, and email are all good for certain things. But you can often get more resolved in a two-minute phone call than a 10-email chain. Note to self: schedule that coffee you’ve been putting off.
  5. Be ENTHUSIASTIC. It’s important to say this word to yourself with as much excitement as you can possibly muster. Even on Mondays – smile when you walk into your office!
  6. Do the work. I recently heard a CIO say the only reason he’s in a leadership position is because he was willing to take on a failing project that scared off everyone else. A good intern is looking for the stuff no one else is doing, because that’s where she can distinguish herself.
  7. Push yourself. Right now, as I look at what’s on my plate, I can think of at least three things I haven’t done already because they make me nervous, they seem boring, or I’m afraid they’ll go wrong. These are the most important things to do.

The best part of this is if you’re anything like me, you already know these rules. We just need to go back to them periodically. So how about you… any tricks for remembering the professional skills basics? Where do you see seasoned professionals tripping up?

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    • Cary
    • April 26, 2013

    Thanks for reposting this! Great advice for all of us on staying enthusiastic and not getting in a rut at work. It’s so easy once we go beyond intern status to stop thinking with the same clarity that working within a finite time can give you.

    1. I totally agree, Cary! I love the underlying messages of maintaining a fresh perspective and being fully present…it’s so easy to just work with your blinders on, focusing solely on the day-to-day.

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