Intern Etiquette

Should interns work for free? How should interns act the first day of work? Here is some advice for interns, whether working in New York City or a small-town business.

Intern Etiquette

Q & A with Dr. Randall Hansen, associate professor of marketing at the school of business at Stetson University in Florida


NSU: How should and shouldn’t an intern act?
Hansen: Ideally, interns should find someone in the organization—possibly their immediate supervisor, but it could be someone else—to mentor them, to teach them not only about the career, but also about organizational culture and politics.

Interns should always show up on time for work and dress appropriately. If you do need to miss work for an emergency or other obligation, contact your supervisor as soon as possible.

Interns should always be positive and should seek out new challenges once they have completed assignments. In many companies, if you don’t ask for more, you’ll never get it. One of the main points of interning (is) to get as much experience as possible.

Interns should not act immaturely or cause waves within the organization. The worst thing an intern can do is burn bridges. You just never know when you will run into these people again. No matter how bad the internship (and most are good), always leave on a positive note.


NSM: Should interns be willing to work for free?
Hansen: In an ideal world, all internships would be paid internships, but I have known some absolutely amazing internships that have been unpaid and some pretty bad ones that have been paid. Pay offers no guarantees except some kind of income.

Don’t turn down any intern opportunities just because of pay (or lack of it). You’ll have plenty of years to earn money, but limited opportunities to learn and become more of an expert in your field.


NSM: How crucial are internships when applying for jobs?
Hansen: The more internships you have, the more opportunities you’ll have right after college. Employers want college grads to have solid work experience, and the way to get that experience is through interning. The more interning you do, the bigger your network of contacts and the more experience you’ll have—key things that will be vital in the job-search at graduation. The other great thing about multiple internships is that they should help narrow your career focus. Some may even make you change your career focus.

Q & A with Heather Abramson, undergraduate internship Coordinator, Baruch College

NSM: What can get from an internship?
Abramson: A better resumé, stronger confidence in your abilities, professionalism, applicable skills, knowledge of an industry or a company (or even the world of work in general), knowledge of what you like and don’t like to do, professional networks, good references and full-time employment. Internships are now the number-one way employers recruit employees; 40 percent of interns turn into full-time hires!

NSM: What do you tell students who don’t want to work for free?
Abramson: This is a supply-demand question. Some fields and industries typically pay, and others don’t. “Glamour” industries like fashion, music, etc., have many more applicants than they have spaces for, and many applicants who are willing to work for free. Therefore, there is no reason for them to pay. If you volunteer as an intern, you have to be sure you are not taken advantage of. At the same time, students should keep in mind that employers tend to give easy work at first until they know what the student is capable of.

NSM: What do you look for in an intern?
Abramson: Communication skills, ability to show up on time, positive attitude about self and others, enthusiasm about work, willingness to learn and take the initiative.

Q&A with Patty Bishoff of, which offers professional advice on the working world

NSM: What if a job turns out to be in a field you don’t want to pursue?
Keep moving forward. An internship is short term for this very reason. It’s a testing ground that can go both ways—the employer can find out about you for potential future openings, and you can find out about them, as well as the industry.

Instead of whining or moaning, dream up ways to approach the situation differently. And once you’ve made it through this, you’ll always have an answer to a future job interviewer’s question about how you handled a challenging situation!

NSM: What do you look for in an intern?
Bishoff: Flexibility, interest, enthusiasm, spunk and ability to look at the bigger picture. You are never “too educated,” “too smart” or “too important” for the little tasks.


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