How to be a Super Intern

By the SMU Social Media Team

As the first local university to make internships compulsory for all students, SMU takes internships very seriously. After all, a university degree isn’t an end in itself, but a way of preparing you for your future professional life. An internship is one of the best ways for you to gain exposure to real-world career options, and it plays a big part in your journey of exploration.

Besides learning from the actual tasks you’ll carry out, internships also give you a chance to experience the day-to-day of working life. Even if you complete your work in an exemplary manner, you could still benefit from a little extra polish in order to become a legendary Super Intern. Here’s our cheat sheet to making a Super Impression on your internship supervisor and colleagues: use it well!

1. The Basics: Be Punctual and Look Professional

You’ve been briefed that the official working hours are 9 am to 6 pm. Therefore, the first thing you need to do every day is show up at 9 am or earlier. It doesn’t matter if your colleagues trickle in between 9.05 to 9.30; arrive at 9 anyway. This tells people that you’re a responsible worker, and that you value punctuality.

Arriving on time or even early has its advantages. If the office is a small one, you can take the opportunity to make yourself helpful by turning on the lights and the air-con before the others arrive. And if not, get a head-start on clearing emails you may have received in the night, so that you’ll be ready to take on any new tasks that your supervisor may have for you when he arrives.

Every office has a different dress code. On your first day, aim to be slightly overdressed rather than grossly underdressed. For guys, go with a long-sleeved collared shirt with dark pants and dress shoes. Ladies, you can’t go wrong with a nice blouse over slacks or a knee-skimming skirt. Depending on the nature of the company, a blazer may be required.

After your first week on the job, you’ll have a better sense of how people dress, and you can adjust your workwear accordingly. Remember: you want to be remembered for the quality of your work, not the strangeness of your outfits!

2. Be An Engaged Team Player

Every internship has plenty of opportunities for you to learn above and beyond the initial scope — but only if you speak up and ask the right questions. “What does this acronym stand for?” “Can I sit in on your meeting and help to take notes?”

This is the question that everyone loves to hear: “How can I help?” In many situations, interns are (rightly or wrongly) perceived as more hassle than help. Avoid perpetuating this stereotype by looking for opportunities to contribute and to collaborate. If documents need to be assembled ahead of an important meeting, offer to handle the compiling, printing and binding as a way of helping the team while learning about the meeting preparation process. Even if you’re just taking orders for dinner on an evening when everyone is working late ahead of a big deadline, you’ll be making yourself useful and appreciated.

Don’t be afraid of sounding stupid or making an unintentional mistake. Internships are the best time to practice your professional and interpersonal communication skills. Your colleagues and supervisors may chuckle if you commit a faux pas, but they’ll also be impressed by your willingness to be involved. And if there are any mistakes to be made, it’s much better to make them as an intern than as a salaried employee with bigger responsibilities and more serious repercussions.

3. Be Confident and Energetic

As an intern, you’re the lowest on the metaphorical food chain. That doesn’t mean you have to carry yourself like a spineless jellyfish! If you’re constantly engaged in what’s going on — see point 2 — you should be more than equipped to confidently hold your own in work situations where you’re expected to contribute.

Confidence also helps in situations where you’re caught off-guard. If you’re asked a question (especially by your boss or a client) to which you don’t have the answer, it reflects much better on you to say “Please give me some time to check and get back to you” rather than to bleat helplessly that you’re just the intern and you don’t know anything. There may also be occasions where you feel put on the spot when a colleague asks you what you think in a meeting or a discussion: remember, if it’s your opinion that they’re asking for, then there are no wrong answers.

The overall energy level of your colleagues depends on the organisational and team culture, so some EQ is required to get it right. If your colleagues seem to be always on the move and in the middle of something, make sure you do your best to keep up and not hinder or slow them down. On the other hand, if your team is one that operates in a more slow and systematic manner, you don’t want to be the hyperactive kid (like Russell in the animated movie Up) who drives them up the wall.

4. Don’t Just Work Hard — Work Smart

So you’ve proven your mettle to the extent that everyone in the office has entrusted you with tasks and responsibilities. With so many of them and just one of you, you suddenly have more on your plate than you can handle, and you’re starting to feel stressed out. What do you do?

This would be the right time to keep asking intelligent questions. Each time you’re assigned a new to-do item, find out the timeline: if it’s not urgent, ask the relevant supervisor if you can hold off on doing it until you’ve cleared the more time-sensitive tasks. Where possible, you should also ask if there are templates or guidelines to follow, since you don’t want to spend time reinventing the wheel if a preferred format already exists.

In every job, a certain amount of overtime is unavoidable. The same applies to internships. If your workload has reached the point where you’re working past the stated knock-off time every day, consider approaching your supervisor (politely!) to find out if the company has a policy for giving time off in lieu. Even if such a policy doesn’t exist, it never hurts to ask.

5. Make Meaningful Connections

Super Interns aren’t just robots that check all the boxes. They also have the soft skills that make supervisors and colleagues write them glowing testimonials, think of them first when a full-time job opportunity comes up — and even refer them for suitable entry-level jobs outside of the organisation.

Besides the potential opportunities for your future career, taking the effort to relate to your colleagues on a personal basis can also give you valuable behind-the-scenes insights. You’ll find out why they like their jobs, how long people tend to stay in the company, and other off-the-cuff insights that’ll help you as you figure out if this is the right job/organisation/industry for you.

This approach is also useful in situations where you’ve gotten off on the wrong foot. Perhaps you made a serious error in your first week, and ever since then your supervisor has only entrusted you with the most menial tasks. Take your courage in both hands, apologise again, and ask if you can have a coffee chat with him to get some advice about how you can avoid repeating your previous mistake and do better in future. Chances are that your humility and willingness to be corrected will help to rectify your earlier negative impression.

If you take career experience as seriously as we do, SMU sounds like the university for you.
Undergraduate applications are open — visit to learn how you can Transform into a Different U.

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