Intern Etiquette: 6 Tips for Moving from a Classroom to the Workplace

Intern Etiquette: 6 Tips for Moving from a Classroom to the Workplace


It’s that time of year again. Students are putting together their polished resumes in the hopes of securing that coveted internship spot at their dream company. Unfortunately, a lot of students are not taught how to ace an internship interview while in the classroom. Here are some tips on how to stand out of the crowd and become a step closer to gaining more real world experience and starting your career.

1. Customize your resume

By all means, using a generic resume template to start is a great beginning, but employers don’t want to see how well you can copy and paste. Be sure once you read the internship description that you customize the objective and highlight the things on your resume that would apply to the position you are trying to get.

“A custom resume and cover letter can help you secure an interview. With limited space on your resume, highlight the points most relevant to the position you are seeking. Avoid generic descriptions and focus on tangible outcomes you helped produce,” said Patrick Britton, program manager for the Northeast Ohio Council on Higher Education.

Quick Tip: Remember when you are sending a resume, do not name it “Resume.” Make sure to put your name and date along with it so the employer can keep track of whose resume they are looking at and when they received it.

2. Elevator speech

The all important first question most employers ask is “Tell me about yourself.” Some things to highlight in this quick 30-45 second speech are:

  • Where you go to school and what you are studying
  • What your interests are in a career
  • A couple of your skills and/or strengths
  • Some past experiences, from either previous employers or school, that attributes to the position you are interviewing for

Quick Tip: By keeping your speech simple but authentic and honest, you will not come across as bragging about yourself, but instead confident and knowledgeable.

3. Dress etiquette

Stick to neutral colors, such as black or grey. Regardless of the dress code at the organization, for both men and women, you can never go wrong with a suit. Also, make sure everything is tucked in neatly and your hair looks professional. For both men and women, try to go easy on the perfume or aftershave.

Quick Tip: Women- try to keep jewelry to a minimum and wear neutral color nail polish. Men-make sure to wear a tie or bow tie. Even if you are more dressed up than anyone else is in the room, it’s better to be over dressed then underdressed!

4. What to bring to the interview

Make sure to bring a pen and a clean notepad to write on. Also, bring two extra copies of your resume and a reference page. Always bring any projects you have done, from both school and previous internships, to show how your past experiences fit in with what the company is looking for.

“With the proliferation of devices and gadgets, we too often these days find ourselves without pen and paper. Don’t make this mistake at an interview.  Some employers are fine if you use your phone to take notes, but most will think you are texting or being rude. If you do want to use your phone, make sure it is ok at the start of the interview. If they say no – be sure you have a pen and notepad,” says Britton.

5. Come ready with questions

If you don’t come ready with questions, the employer will think you did not do your homework on the company or that you are uninterested and disorganized. Here are some general questions that will fit most interview settings:

  • What do you like best about the company?
  • How would you describe the company’s culture?
  • Is this a new position or would I be replacing someone?
  • What are the traits and skills of people who are the most successful within the organization?
  • Can you describe a typical day or week in the position?

Quick Tip: Make sure to do your homework on the company. By reading their blog or seeing if they made the news in recent weeks, you can bring up those topics in the interview. This will not only show that you did your homework, but you will come across as organized, in tune with their company, and a good fit as an employee in the future.

6. Hand written letter vs. email

Once the interview is complete, it is courtesy to send a thank you letter or email. By not sending a letter or email, it can come across that you are not interested or excited about the position. Employers have different preferences, but it’s clear across the board that any kind of follow up, whether snail mail or email, is preferred.  The general rule is to send one out within 24 hours of interviewing.

The pros of sending an email is that it will get to the interviewee faster and they will be more likely to remember you because you are fresh in their minds.

However, the pros of sending snail mail is that even though it may not reach them for a day or two, it shows that you took the time to write out a letter.

Quick Tip: When sending a follow up letter or email, make sure to not only say thank you, but restate why you would fit the position you interviewed for and what skills and strengths you can bring to the organization.

Interviewing for an internship is an exciting and great way to gain real-world experience before, or even after, you graduate. By listening to these tips for the interview process, you are sure to stand out among the competition and be one step closer to securing that dream internship.

View the Intern & Recent Graduate Pay Rates & Practices Survey

This survey reports data from Northeast Ohio employers about their internship and recent graduate employment and pay practices.

View the Results