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Intern advice from the HR office

Jenna Johnson

Today's guest blogger is Tammy Colson of Greensboro, N.C., who has worked in human resources for 17 years.

It's tough to be the new person in an established work environment. For some of you, this may be the first job you've held.

tammy_colson.jpgThese are a few of the tips I give to interns, temps and entry-level new hires, but above all of that advice is this: Be professional at all times.

This may be a summer position, but there were likely many people competing for the job you hold, so it's your job to make the most of it.

1. Show up
No, really. Show up prepared to do what is needed. It may not be pretty, or life changing for you. But that "menial task" may get your boss out of a jam and make you shine.

Sometimes you have to make the copies. Everyone does it at some point in their career. Someone has to do this stuff, and many times that's why companies hire interns. Everyone knows you are smarter than the copy machine, but some of the best ideas to improve efficiency have come from interns who know more about the technology than we do.

2. Don't be afraid to say, "I don't know, but I'll find out"
Not knowing isn't a crime. Feeding your executive a line of nonsense is -- particularly when you both know it. Put forth some honesty and say you'll find out. Integrity trumps all, and if it doesn't, then you know you aren't working for the right company.

3. Excuse yourself from conversations (before your co-workers do it for you)
I see more interns languish at the "water cooler," ruining any chance of a full time position, because they have gotten too friendly with their co-workers. You are here to learn. So learn. I'm not saying don't make friends. ... But please, excuse yourself before they do with a polite, "I must get back to work." It makes an impression, and it's not a bad one.

4. Never, ever drink more than the employees
A) Don't drink with the boss. Bad idea. Every time.
B) If you go out with some co-workers on a random Wednesday, have a drink, fake an appointment and leave. It doesn't matter how much fun you are having, these people are forming an opinion of you and what matters is their professional opinion. You can make friends outside of work, or friends inside of work, once you secure the full time job.

5. Schedule time with your boss
Ask for an appointment, if need be, but establish a set time to talk about the business, what needs to be done, what they feel is important. Pick their brain about their job. Get feedback on how you are doing your job. Do this weekly if you can.

6. Listening and speaking up are both important
You will learn things during your internship, but you might also teach someone else something. Being "just the intern" can make you invisible, but quietly listening can also teach you a lot about business.

Having an objective, intelligent opinion at the right moment can make you an invaluable asset to your employer. Sometimes the difference between invisible and invaluable can be decided in a split second.

It is as important for you to learn from the mistakes, and much less painful to learn from the mistakes of others, as it is to absorb the lessons of success.

About Tammy
Tammy Colson has worked in human resources at Fortune 50 companies and small businesses for 17 years. She now works as a consultant for small and medium-size businesses. Follow her on Twitter as @TLColson, and on the Web at JunkyardHR.

Campus Overload is a daily must-read for all D.C. interns. So, make sure to bookmark http://washingtonpost.com/campus-overload. You can also follow me on Twitter and fan Campus Overload on Facebook.

By Jenna Johnson  |  July 7, 2010; 12:35 PM ET
Categories:  D.C. Interns  | Tags: Internships, Job Search  
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