Q. What’s the best way to emphasize the importance of professional behavior for student interns, especially in social settings with co-workers?

June 3, 2010 at 12:05 pm | Posted in Intern Support, Preparing interns | Leave a comment
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by the Intern Coach

A. You have several options to offer your student interns. Internships.com has an Intern Certification Program that teaches students how to conduct conversations at work and how to behave appropriately among co-workers. Since student interns may have adjustment problems to the working world, you may want to guide them in the following ways: 

  • Conduct role-playing sessions with you acting as the co-worker and your student as the new intern. Encourage your student to start a conversation and then ask him/her some questions, such as “What did you do this weekend?”  If the answer is “Partied all weekend,” you can suggest a more conservative answer, such as “Wrote a paper for my Political Science class.” You could also throw out a few comments, such as “Isn’t the boss a jerk?” to evaluate your student intern’s response, which should be noncommittal.  These role-playing sessions could also be conducted among student interns, each taking different roles.
  • Describe specific social settings, including picnics, retirement parties, and company celebrations (anniversaries, holiday parties, general meetings, etc.) and review drinking policies with your student interns. Remind the student intern to dress modestly even if it’s a picnic or casual event.
  • Advise your student interns that office romances can create problems. Flirting is fine on campus, but not at work. If someone at work flirts with them, they would be well advised to keep the relationship strictly professional. Acting overly friendly at the office can be misinterpreted by co-workers as aggressive behavior. Recommend that your student interns develop best friends away from the internship site.
  • Emphasize to your interns that they refrain from gossiping either in the office or at a company social event. They could practice being good listeners without giving away their own opinions. Besides, people enjoy being around someone who listens rather than talks only about himself/herself. A good conversation technique is to ask impersonal questions about sports, weather, company history, cafeteria food etc., but caution them not to discuss money, religion, or politics.
  • Alert them to the dangers of office politics. If departments are at odds or a co-worker is upset about corporate policies, they can act sympathetic but shouldn’t take sides on any issues. You never know which side will win, so don’t play the game. They should keep personal opinions to themselves as well as personal histories.
  • Remind your student interns that not only are they being evaluated for their own professional behavior, but also the school’s reputation is at stake. Your intern is your representative and will pave the way for future interns. Prepare your intern to act responsibly and professionally by making sure that he/she has internship guidelines as well as emergency phone numbers and email addresses so they can reach out for support.

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