Start Off On The Right Foot: Tips for Interns (Or Newbies in General)

April 13, 2012 Permalink

I’ve had a diverse range of roles and companies for which to work, and I’ve learned a lot.

I’m lucky to have had all of the experience at such a young age, because it has shaped me into the professional I am now and has challenged me and helped me learn new skills.

The diversity in the roles I’ve held so far has also given me exposure to various branches of my field, which has aided in making the best possible decision as to the direction I want my career to go.

new job how to do well first day

These are all the benefits of working for many different companies in different roles. Another huge benefit to this is adaptability and having to start off on the right foot over and over again.

I fancy myself an expert at transitioning now.

You won’t work well with everyone

I was lucky in my jobs previous jobs, but my first challenged me to cope in ways I didn’t know I was capable of.

Some people have different working styles than you. Some people won’t like you. Some people will be jealous, or competitive, or feel threatened. And some people will write you off as the newbie and take that as an opportunity to take advantage of you. Try to be the bigger person and move past it. Remember that this is not the norm and use this as a learning opportunity to build the skills to deal with challenging people.

Proofread emails. And then proofread them again.

Especially as the newbie in the office, you don’t want to be sending out messages that are less than perfect.

My first mega indiscretion during my first internship was sending out a mass email to executives, managers, and supervisors without having somebody else look at it. I had proofread it several times, but having a second set of eyes for extremely important emails is infinitely helpful.

I didn’t confirm a date, and while that may seem minor, a coworker was a stickler for the details and had me email out a massive apology letter for not having proofread my email. It was embarrassing, and to this day I still try to get somebody to proof my emails if I am sending them to more than just my normal work group.

Write things down

I have a pretty good memory, and don’t usually need a pen and paper to remember a file path or a fact. But having a pen and paper and writing everything down is expected of you when you first start in an organization, and there are so many people that will think you’re incompetent if you don’t do this. So, even if you don’t feel like you need to write every fact down, do.

I’ve also had a few people demand I write things down and seem a little annoyed when I didn’t. I learned quickly to always bring a pen and pad of paper with me.

Ask for feedback

If you ask for feedback, your manager will be more willing to give it to you and you can build upon your performance from there.

It also shows that you care about your job and that you want to improve your performance. Book a half-hour meeting with your supervisor and ask what they think your strengths and weaknesses are, and be sure to ask how they think you can improve.

This shows initiative and also is extremely helpful to you.

Go for lunch with the team

In my first internship, I made excuses to get out of going for lunch with my department. They’d sometimes eat their lunches together in the boardroom, and I’d avoid that too. I felt like I didn’t know anyone and thought it would make me uncomfortable to have to eat with them.

The thing I didn’t really realize is that I wouldn’t get to know anyone if I didn’t make the effort, and I couldn’t very well be socializing on the job, so lunch time is the perfect opportunity.

It will definitely be a little uncomfortable for you at first, but after a couple of days you should be able to contribute to the conversation.

Would you add anything to this list? How would you start off on the right foot if you were new in your job?

20 Comments
  • Michelle
    April 13, 2012

    I would definitely say to network and get to know the people you work with. You’ll be more memorable that way.

  • hmmm
    April 13, 2012

    Good post! Even though I’ve been working for 6 mths in my first “big girl job”, there are some things I am definitely taking away from this post – like asking for feedback.

    Another piece of advice I’d pass on is – keep your business and personal life seperate. Make sure you have a distinction between the two. Like, I have Facebook, but I don’t add co-workers. This helps me define my “professional self”, especially in a job where I am the youngest by about 15 years.

    Great post!

  • This Aggie Saves
    April 13, 2012

    I would have to add in focus on your job when you’re there, and leave work at work when you go home. No surfing the net or following twitter when you’re supposed to be working on something. And then there’s getting to work on time. Something I struggle with!

    • Jeremiah Brown
      April 13, 2012

      Work at work, and leave it there, another thing I always go by. You can really do some damage to your personal life if you don’t follow this saying. As for getting to work on time, I set my clocks 10 minutes forward and go by the saying “if you’re early… you’re on time, if you’re on time… you’re late, and if you’re late… you’re out of luck”

  • Well Heeled Blog
    April 13, 2012

    I’d say try to figure out the office culture. I.e. does everyone stay until 7pm or until the big boss go home? How quickly are you expected to complete to do’s. What does “take your time but get it to me soon” mean? If you can find mentors and allies among folks who have been there, it will help tremendously. Oh, and as an intern/newbie, you will have the leeway to ask a lot of questions. Don’t let that time go to waste!

  • Jeremiah Brown
    April 13, 2012

    I like how you said that you’re a “learn by watching other people’s mistakes” kinda girl. I’m the same way (but that kinda “guy”). I think the best way to move up is to follow that mentality. Personally, I had a lot of HORRIBLE bosses, and I gained momentum by doing the opposite thing he did in situations. i.e. always being negative to employees, never helping someone learn something, never helping or getting dirty. Instead, I always found something positive to say about my employees, I was the first to clean the bathroom and other dirty jobs (as a store manager) to show that I wasn’t any better than them, and took every opportunity to show someone how to do something in a positive manor. (I would start with a positive comment, exemplifying a strength of theirs, then show them a way they could make their job more efficient and easier, leaving them with another positive comment). This helped me to gain respect as well as use what I learned with any job that I had.

  • Modest Money
    April 13, 2012

    A lot of helpful advice for people starting off at a new workplace. Asking for feedback is huge since a lot of people will not take that initiative. How are you supposed to improve what you’re doing if you’re not sure what your supervisor or boss actually thinks of your work. They could be holding some grudge about how you’re doing things and putting off saying anything about it.

  • MyMoneyDesign
    April 13, 2012

    Even after 9 years at my current job, every one of these tips still applies. Especially the first tip. Some people do just suck and there is nothing you can do.

  • TB at BlueCollarWorkman
    April 13, 2012

    From the blue collar perspective, some of this doens’t apply, but a lot still does. Espeically, “Some people won’t like you” and “And some people will write you off as the newbie and take that as an opportunity to be as holier-than-thou as humanly possible.” That last one really got me down when I started welding 10 years ago. I felt like I knew a lot about welding but no one would listen. I shouldn’t have been so upset about it, but rather just accepted that they think I’m new and dumb. Then I could shrug it off and move on. I know that now though, and now that I’m 10 years in, I know that when newbies start I shouldn’t treat them like they’re dumb because it doesnt’ feel great.

  • Savvy Working Gal
    April 13, 2012

    Daisy – you sound very conscientious and are going to make a fabulous employee. I wish more of my employees would have had a chance to intern before becoming a full-time employee. It makes such a difference. Look what you learned about the kind of people/companies you want to work for.
    On emails – turn spell check on to check every single email. Impressions are everything and misspelled words from a new employee all the way up to top management (I’ve seen this) never give a good impression. Also don’t send emails with text in pretty colors, written entirely in lower case or full of abbreviations.
    I love your advice to write things down. I remember the new hire who said she didn’t need to take notes while I was showing her how to sign on to our company’s computer system which was pretty complicated. I just knew I’d be repeating the lesson the next day. Sure enough a few minutes after 8:00 the next day here she comes asking me to help her sign on.

    • Nathalie
      April 13, 2012

      I agree but also, don’t trust spell check blindly! It might not catch a word spelled correctly but used incorrectly. Those mistakes are just as bad! “I wood like to request…” for example.

      I like the advice of having someone else (someone who you know is consciencious!) look over your work, but don’t abuse that or you will quickly give out the wrong impression (this person has no confidence/doesn’t like to take initiatives). Plus, you’re adding to their workload, which can quickly lead to resentment. So try to find the right balance.

      Another piece of advice about emails: look at who you added in the “TO”, “CC”, and “BCC” fields and double check that the people getting the message are truly those who should be getting it. That is especially true when you forward something. Try not to forward jokes or chain letters from your work email. It’s unprofessional and in many instances, unwelcome.
      Make sure the “Mark Smith” you’re emailing is the correct one. Don’t hit reply without making sure that you’re NOT selecting “reply all”, for example, especially if you’re commenting on something the previous sender wrote. If you’re addressing an email to a group of people who don’t necessarily know one another, add all the addresses in the “BCC” field, that way each recipient will only see his/her own address listed, not everyone else’s. Some people get really bent out of shape about this. Others have their email set up to show all the recipients and have to scroll down past tons of names just to see your message and that irritates them.

      I always take notes and seeing someone who doesn’t absolutely sends the message that the person isn’t taking their job seriously. I don’t care if you have the greatest memory in the world, if I am giving you important instructions, I want to see you take notes so I know that you will be able to refer to them to accomplish the task that I am giving you without me having to repeat myself again and again :)

      And whoever said not to add your co-workers to your Facebook… great, great advice. I don’t do Facebook but listen to that person because that is indeed very wise advice!

  • E
    April 13, 2012

    Daisy- Love your post!! all the books/ advise seems to revolve around getting a degree, or polishing a resume and the best way to interview I think knowing how to pull all that together is great.. but no one talks about the ” between the lines” kinda stuff.. like getting along with older coworkers, life in a huge dept( or small one), corporate/ non-profit culture, being bullied at work, or just plain disrespected and how to handle all that.. thanks for your post!!

  • MommaStar
    April 13, 2012

    These are great advices. What seems to work with me best is separating personal with work while at work. I’ll still do the occasional drinks and meals out with coworkers though.

  • krantcents
    April 13, 2012

    The people you meet may be people you might want to include in your future networking activities. So make connections.

  • Michelle
    April 13, 2012

    I’ve had a really hard time with the “you’re not going to work well with everyone” point in the past. I’m a total crowd-pleaser! I’m a kiss-up if anything, because I’m always trying to work really hard and make everyone like me….but that actually pisses some people off, I’ve learned. Very humbling to someone like me, because I try really hard to make everyone like me…and never do anything to ruffle feathers. It’s a tough lesson to learn.

  • Invest It Wisely
    April 13, 2012

    Hey, this is pretty great advice, Daisy. :) I remember the writing thing myself, as I came across that in my earlier days. I think it’s important to be humble, take notes, and remember a lot is about appearances — you might be smart and know what you’re doing, but if you have the appearance of someone who’s going to cause grief or isn’t that interested in things, then you’ll be putting up roadblocks in your way.

  • Nathalie
    April 13, 2012

    Daisy, that is a wonderful article. Very insightful and totally accurate. I especially like the last one about having lunch with your co-workers. I come across as extrovert but I’m actually pretty introverted so left to my own devices, I’d rather be on my own.
    I worked at a famous entertainment company for 15 years in various departments and never had problems getting along with my co-workers because the culture of the company was to have friendly employees. We all went to lunch together as a given, we invited newbies, no one was ignored.
    After a long break from the workforce, I worked at our local school last year. What a difference! No one ever invited me to join them for lunch in the breakroom. Most of the employees had worked there for many years and formed their own cliques and either were pretty unfriendly or didn’t think to actually invite the newbie to join them. Consequently, I spent the whole year eating at my desk in my office. I got along with most everyone just fine, but I never felt that I fit in, and actually decided that it was the absolute worst workplace where I had ever worked. I ended up leaving at the end of the year instead of staying on as my bosses had asked me because I couldn’t stand working there anymore. So for those of you who are more extroverted, remember to ASK those newbies to join you for lunch. Some people just need a little friendliness and encouragement to open up.

  • Frugal Fries
    April 14, 2012

    I think another really important tip (especially for the private sector) is to just sit back and soak in the office politics and culture. A lot of the times, your connections can make all the difference. Your allies can make or break your journey up the corporate ladder, so be careful!

  • Thad P @ thadthoughts.com
    April 14, 2012

    I am impressed with what you’ve learned in those 3 internships. Those are excellent lessons. Sounds like you’ve learned the hard way the pitfalls of email as a communications tool.

  • AverageJoe
    April 14, 2012

    Great tips. I think it always pays at a new job to be the helpful person who keeps their mouth shut. I’m talkative on my blog, but that’s because it’s my own territory. In meetings, I speak when it’ll add to the conversation and hold off on commenting about every little thing.

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