What Every Intern Should Know About Business Communication

June 4, 2014
What every intern should know about business communication

Congratulations, you’ve scored an internship! You’re probably getting excited about specific projects and tasks, but I want to take a step back together and talk about something that’s a big challenge for some young interns: business communication.

You have to be skilled in the tasks on which your chosen industry relies, but in order to be truly successful you must learn the importance of handling yourself well in a business setting, whether it’s responding promptly to emails or conducting yourself like a mature, confident adult.

Developing these skills now puts you miles ahead of your competition in the job market.

Communicate professionally and proactively

60% of employers say applicants lack communication and interpersonal skills. If you can handle the “soft skills” of office life you will be more hireable, and an internship is the perfect place to brush up on these skills.

When it comes to communicating with your internship supervisor(s), it’s likely better erring on the side of communicating too much — unless you’re working full-time your face-to-face interaction may be minimal, and your supervisor will rely on you to frequently let him or her know what’s going on.

Status updates

Tell people where you are in your assigned projects. In the future you may have a supervisor who’s on you like white on rice to communicate, but then again you might not — you can’t expect a future employer to chase you around checking on your status.

These status updates can be via email, Post-It note, or quick conversation, but they need to happen every day you work.

Tell your supervisor what you did, where you might be stuck, and include some indication of what you’ll be doing next. If you have questions, ask them.

Reply promptly

If someone asks you a question, get back to them as soon as you can. This means checking your email daily and keeping it open on your computer when you're in the office.

Even if the response is "Thanks, I'm working on this and will get back to you this afternoon," sometimes that's all you need.

"Reply all" is your new mantra

When someone sends you an email and CCs other people, that means they want all those individuals to be kept in the loop. Hit "Reply all" to send your response to everyone in the chain.

Be proactive

If you’re done with all the tasks assigned to you, be proactive and ask a team member or supervisor if there’s anything you could be doing, or any way to help them.

Accept constructive criticism

Get rid of your personal attachment to your creations.

This doesn’t mean that you don’t take ownership of and pride in your work, but rather that you are able to separate criticism of what you’ve created from who you are.

You may create something that you love and think is perfect — a piece of content, a spreadsheet, a presentation — only to have your supervisor respond with critiques. You may have to compromise sometimes, and that’s okay.

Critiques should always come from a place of wanting to make the project better, not of wanting to make you frustrated or unhappy.

Don’t be afraid of failure

For many people the idea of failing — particularly in the workplace — is frightening; this fear can stifle personal growth and business innovation.

In an internship you should not be afraid to try something new, make a suggestion, or dive headfirst into an assignment you have no idea how to complete.

Your supervisor may assign you a task that feels out of your wheelhouse, and with little instruction other than to give it a try. He or she is likely doing this not to frustrate you, but to challenge you and help you learn a skill that will be helpful in the future.

Be bold! Give the assignment your best shot. And remember the 15-minute rule.

Speak up

If there's a project you're interested in, a question you have, or if you're feeling overwhelmed or under-utilized, speak up!

A good supervisor wants to help you get everything you can out of your internship, and he or she can't help if you don't let them know what's going on.

Be yourself

In many companies you are chosen as an intern just as much for your personality as your skill level — never be anybody but yourself (albeit in a more professional manner).

An important caveat

If you discover that you are interning in an environment where you cannot be yourself, where you are consistently shot down, demeaned, or harshly and personally critiqued, think hard about whether the internship is worth continuing, and very hard about accepting any job offers the company might extend at your internship’s conclusion.

[Image: Torley, cropped/resized]