Taking on an internship is tricky. While your bosses aren’t expecting you to make a revolutionary change to the company, they’ll still be observing how you work, how you assimilate with your colleagues and whether you’ll make a good recruit if they hire you after your contract ends.

Here are five quick tips on how to make your internship work for you.

1. Get Acquainted

The first week as an intern can be an absolute drag. Though you desperately want to leave a good impression, people in the office barely know your name, let alone remember you asides from being “the new intern”. The top tip here is to refrain from expecting too much. It’s sort of like how they say expectations lead to disappointments. Feeling the adrenaline rush of starting a new job is normal, but try to tone it down a notch. Chances are you’re not gonna be doing much in your first few days, other than sitting around rearranging your stationery to make yourself look like an organised worker.

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A dream office desk would probably be this organised. Throw in a couple of Post-It notes with scribbles on them and you have the perfect setting of a workplace go-getter.

People probably aren’t gonna remember your name on the first introduction either, but that’s fine! If your boss (or whoever’s in charge of interns) isn’t giving you any tasks, make some coffee. You’d be surprised how many of your colleagues you’ll get acquainted with simply by offering to make them a drink at the pantry. This doesn’t work the other way around though – if your boss offers to make you a drink, politely decline and render your help instead. It’ll look pretty bad if one of the higher-ups makes a drink for an intern (even worse for the intern, obviously).

2. Don’t be annoying 

It’s always good to ask questions to ensure you’re doing the right thing, but don’t be annoying. While it’s vital that you learn as much as possible on your stint, you might get on your colleague’s nerves if you continuously bug them with trivial queries. When you get a task, look through as many details as you can before scooting off to your colleagues to ask questions (if any).

When there’s an important meeting scheduled, and no one has told you to come along, that’s your cue to ask if you can sit in. If your boss says no, then hey, at least you tried, plus there’s always a next time. If it’s a yes, score! Now be sure to observe from the sidelines first; you’ll get an opportunity to speak and contribute in subsequent meetings. Remember, the key is to not be annoying.

3. This is Serious Business

Take the work seriously! This is probably one of the factors interns tend to overlook. It’s so easy to breeze through an internship by doing the bare minimum, especially one that is mandated by your university or other academic institutions. Show your bosses and co-workers how you hustle for the job, how keen you are to make it in this industry. If someone happens to ask you something job-related and you don’t know the answer, find out! Simply replying “I don’t know, I’m just an intern” isn’t gonna cut it.  If you’re looking to stay in the company or at least make great contacts, you have to leave a lasting impression.

But then again if you’re doing it just to graduate then cool, you’ll easily pass as long as you don’t have a major mess up during your stint.

4. Look Good for Less

Controlling your finances can be pretty tough when you’re an unpaid intern but there are always ways to get through the weeks.

Getting a new suit or any other workplace-appropriate outfit might be a necessity but that doesn’t mean you have to break the bank just for this. It would be great if we could all buy tailored Ozwald Boateng suits, but let’s be real, how many months of lunches and dinners would we have to skip to get one of his bespoke creations? Hit regular retail shops at the mall; H&M, Topshop/Topman and Zara carry a fantastic selection of office and formalwear at a fraction of the prices set by luxury labels.

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The average Ozwald Boateng suit (above) could rack up a $3,000 bill. A suit from H&M (below) on the other hand looks just as good and could go as low as $100, with a matching pair of pants.

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Another option is to hit your local thrift stores. There’s bound to be hand-me-downs which are suitable for the workplace, albeit they may be a little behind in style. Pimp it up with some nips and tucks at your neighbourhood alteration shop and you’re good to go!

5. Chicken Soup for the Broke Soul

Since you’re not actually making any income, feeding yourself might seem to be a challenge, but this is not a sign that you should skip meals. Being an intern requires your utmost focus and calories are key in keeping this up. Before you head out to shop for groceries, make a meal plan for the week. This keeps you from getting distracted by anything new and wrapped in shiny packaging at the supermarket aisles. The racks might boast half off tidbits, which may sound like a bargain but do you really need them? Stick to your meal plan – but also only include ingredients that are actually within your budget. This is no time to be a food snob. You can get on the artisanal, gluten-free, 100% organic bandwagon when you’re in a position to have your own unpaid assistant.

By Aida Johan

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