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How to survive your first week as an intern

Advice on how to make the best out of your first days at work

Your performance and attitude in the first few days of an internship are critical to how others see you. While no one will be expecting you to turn the company's fortunes around, people will be observing and evaluating you. Here's how to make a good impression - and be remembered for the right reasons.

Don't expect too much

It's natural to feel excited, and apprehensive, about starting a new internship. While the position may be of great importance to you, try not to expect too much, especially on your first day.

'Don't expect anyone to remember your name on day one,' warns Tanya de Grunwald, founder of graduate careers blog Graduate Fog. 'If the company has two interns in every month, that's 24 per year.'

Likewise, try not to be affronted if you don't have a computer or desk set up for when you start. If you have to wait for IT support, don't play on your phone. Ask your boss if there's anything you can do.

Get it right first time

When you're given your first task, listen carefully and make sure you get it right, warns Tanya.

'It's unlikely that it will be really important or urgent, so don't rush it. Take your time and check you've done it properly. If you mess it up, they won't give you any good jobs for the rest of your placement.'

Show initiative

Depending on the employer and the nature of the work, you may have moments when you're doing nothing.

'If you're twiddling your thumbs and see something that needs doing, ask your supervisor, "Would it be helpful if I...?"' suggests Tanya. 'People may not have time to stop work and give you instructions, so look for opportunities to show initiative.

'Having said that, don't be a maverick. There's a fine line between showing initiative and being a loose cannon. Check before you take action, even if it's just tidying up. You could accidentally bin an important document.'

Make the tea

If your manager doesn't have anything you can do, make the drinks. 'Making tea is actually a great way to get to know who's who,' says Tanya.

On the subject of drinks, don't let anyone make you tea - especially the boss, warns Tanya. 'Even if they offer, it just looks really bad.' And don't take (or, worse, bake!) cakes to share with the team. 'It looks desperate.'

Ask questions – but don't be annoying

When you start working as an intern it's tempting to ask lots of questions and that's certainly important for you to learn as much as possible.

'After your first few days though, be wary of asking too many "simple" questions – stick with those co-workers most willing to help you previously,' advises Rob Williams, an occupational psychologist and author of "Passing Verbal Reasoning Tests" and "Passing Numerical Reasoning Tests".

Be charming to everyone

In his "My First 90 Days" post, Richard Branson advises new hires to 'Listen to everyone you meet' and find out about people's personal interests, as well as their job.

Rob adds: 'If you can, sit next to new colleagues every day at lunch. When introduced to someone, don't just smile and nod – show an interest in their job and them as a person. You never know when you might be chatting with someone in a hiring position, so be polite and charming to everyone you meet.'

Learn as much as you can

'If there's a big meeting happening (more than three people) politely ask if you can sit in and observe,' advises Tanya. 'They may say no, but it's still good to ask. Once the meeting starts, do not speak unless you are spoken to.'

Look busy – but not panicked

'A messy desk looks like your workload is out of control, not to mention a bit of a slob - neither of which is a good look,' says Tanya. 'Also, never rush around the office, even if you're asked to do something quickly. It looks like you're in a panic.'

Don't leave on the dot of 5.30 or whenever your day officially ends. 'It draws attention to the fact that you've been clock-watching – i.e., not doing much for the last hour or so,' adds Tanya.

Take the work seriously

It may only be an intern position, but take the work as seriously as a proper job. That means being as self-sufficient as possible, says Clare Whitmell who blogs on careers at www.JobMarketSuccess.com.

'If someone asks you a question and you don't know the answer, do your best to find out. Saying "Sorry, I'm just an intern," is unlikely to go down well.'

Promote team-building

'Chances are you may not like some of the other interns you work with. Even so, try to be the social organiser who co-ordinates after-work activities that make the intern team gel together. This can only strengthen your working relationships with the intern team as a whole,' says Rob.

While you want to build good working relationships, Clare adds a note of caution. 'Avoid sensitive office politics and harmful gossip, and don't over-share. You want to be remembered for the right reasons – not the person who entertained everyone with tales of their wild weekend.'

Ask about a proper job - when the time is right

You may be hoping that your internship will lead to a proper job, but be careful when you ask.

'Don't ask if there are any jobs going in your first few weeks. It's too soon,' warns Tanya. 'When your internship is coming to an end, ask your supervisor how you can find out about any positions that are available as you'd love to apply. Much cooler.'

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