Cape Town stylist, blogger and closet organiser, Siki Msuseni (All Things Intriguing) shares her ‘know hows’ on how to make it as an intern.
This article was originally published on 11 June 2014 on Siki Museni’s blog.
So you are the new girl (or guy) in the office, you are so scared of your first day in the office you could pee in your pants, you don’t know the office environment that you are going into, you don’t know how to carry yourself, you don’t know what to wear to work. Alas! I am here to save you with ten tips of how to survive the work place.
I have been working since I was 16 (the legal age to start working in South Africa), I can not even recall what my first job was. I remember working at a production company being a researcher for a youth talk show, and also compiling a list of guests to be featured on the show, that was way back in high school. Years went by touching and leaving some good and crap jobs. So I can sure say I qualify to give you some useful tips on how to survive the work place as an intern. There is no real formula to survive the work place but some useful tips to help you stay above water and get you recognised.
These workplace survival tips are relevant to all industries but there are exceptions to some rules, so this is a general guide:
1. Shine in the introductory meeting:
Not many of us have the privilege of an introductory meetings on the first day of work, you are just given a small desk and an old computer and that is your space until your day of resignation (or being fired). Now is the great opportunity to engage with the boss, especially in big companies because they never have time to engage with the intern. Give firm handshakes while looking someone straight in the eye. Speak clearly and with confidence. This is a great opportunity to re-sell yourself after the interview that got you the internship. Be brave to be a superstar, shine bright like a diamond, you won’t be fired for being Little Miss Confident.
2. Look presentable everyday:
I am not one for casual Friday and I am told that it all depends in what industry you work in. Truth is, people take you serious when you dress presentably, so always make an effort to look good and pay attention to small details, like how your tie ends just above your belt buckle (for the men) or how your dress is neatly ironed (for the ladies). You may love the sneaker trend but save that for the weekend. You are not yet the MD of the company and you are still working your way up to be permanently employed so buy face.
3. Avoid social media during working hours:
Unless you are hired as a social media intern remove yourself from social media on your phone or on your PC, even minimising the tab affects your work performance. I know I am the biggest hypocrite at this one, in fact I got fired from a PR Agency for sitting on social media the whole damn day. Funny how I started this blog while working there, the irony!!! I now run social media content for a brand (chew on that PR agency!!!). But my story will not be the same as yours so I warn you not to be a social media junkie, there will be that one colleague who will snitch on you saying, “She sits on Facebook the whole damn day!”
4. Smoke breaks only at the top of each hour or less:
Nothing irritates me as much as smokers at the work place – they get up and go whenever they like for smoke breaks. Yes some are quick and some are damn long even becoming a gossip catch-up session. When the boss calls out for you it really looks tacky when everyone replies with, “She’s out on a smoke break!” Your bad habits should not interfere with your work time (this includes social media read above, and using the office phone to make long personal calls).
5. All key responsibilities must be met:
Before lending a helping hand to your fellow colleagues in the office with their workload make sure that your duties for the day are complete, there’s nothing more unprofessional than when your manager ask for you to do a task and it is not done or half-done. I get that most of the times interns are employed to assist staff with minor work that they do not have the time to do but make sure all your responsibilities are met before jumping to assist anyone else.
6. You are not there to make friends (or lovers):
Nor are you there to be a people-pleaser. The work place is not a place to make friends. People are there to work but that doesn’t mean you must not be polite to everyone. Avoid building strong relations with someone in your first few months, you still have a lot to learn about people, what if you are befriending the office bitch?! Now what?! Uh oh! Yeah cool I get it, you might find a friend that you share the same interests with and end up being glued to each other, I can’t stop you from building good friendships, but only after 5pm. Same applies to romantic relationships, in fact don’t even go there, save yourself the drama. It gets messy after a while. Leave the office hottie alone.
7. Separate work and social fun:
Your varisty days are over, pull yourself together. Your work is what you get paid to do, fun is what you do on weekends or after work hours. Your colleagues do not want to know in detail what happened on your weekend of debauchery or how you sat up all week-end mending a broken heart. It’s important to separate the two and you will get brownie points for when you reply with, “My weekend was relaxed, I spent time with my family and friends” as apposed to “Yho! Mate! This past weekend was rough I can still smell the alcohol on me. I still hate myself for being that shit-face drunk on Saturday night.” And then you continue to lay out the story so that everyone hears you in the open plan office. Put all that in your archives of stories-never-to-be-told.
8. Treat everyone with equal respect:
When it comes to respect, in my books, there is no hierarchy between the respect that you give to the tea lady, cleaner or your boss. This is something your mom should have taught when you were still a kid. I’ve had some amazing and not-so amazing bosses and to those I didn’t like it would usually be how they treated everyone in the office. Rich people can be so damn rude, as they think they have nothing to gain from those who sit in a lower financial bracket than them. Everyone has something fruitful to offer, and everyone has the right to respect.
9. Always give input during a meeting:
Something stupid I used to do was to go to the one chairing the meeting after it done and tell them some ideas and suggestions and they would say, “Now why didn’t you say that during the meeting?” Scared as you may be, you need to put up your hand, wait your turn, speak clearly and confidently – whether it’s a question, an opinion or statement. Do not walk out a meeting without saying nothing, this is imperative. Let them know about your input even if you think you will sound dumb, so what?!
10. Believe in yourself and your capabilities:
The last survival tip and the most important one. I can never stress how important it is to the company to have you on as an intern, so believe in yourself and your capabilities, do not sell yourself short, they hired you for a reason, they saw potential. Allow that potential to shine through without comparing yourself to anyone or try to outshine anyone, stay in your lane. There’s enough for everyone. Every morning you should look forward to work and you are the only one who has control over that. You should not be cursing and feeling miserable at the work place, forget the office politics, they are in every office, forget what the office bully says about you behind your back and believe in yourself. Just keep on shining and working damn hard until you eventually own your own company.