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The Reality of Interning: How to be a Great Intern - Part 2

By Hannah Rafter


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Ok, so you’ve got the job… congratulations! It's now time to figure out how to be great at it. In the second part of this three part series of looking at fashion interning, I will be offering advice on how to become a great at your internship or position. You have a huge opportunity to develop yourself as a professional and learning how to deliver quality work while showing a great attitude, which will help you build your reputation and career at the same time.

I’m sure you’ve read and heard plenty about how to be a great intern, but it’s clear from my experience that no two internships are the same. However, what they all have in common is that you will learn fast, really, really fast! So as someone who has completed over 7 internships and is now in a professional role which involves the hiring and management of interns, I offer these 13 tips which will hopefully make your interning experience worthwhile and enjoyable.

1. Keep you eyes and ears open

Pay attention, close attention. When someone's talking to you put your phone away and get your notebook out. There’s nothing worse than thinking “oh what did she say” and having to ask another intern or member of staff to repeat things back to you. Nothing annoys other interns or staff more! So make sure you’re really listening when being spoken to. You should also keep your eyes open, even when you are not part of the conversation as that’s how you can really get to know what makes the company tick.

2. Be prepared, be very prepared

Being organised is key. Having your ducks in a row will ensure you get noticed, especially when your boss has not or failed to and you save the day by remembering something they've forgotten. Write lists… lots of lists, set reminders on your phone, have folders in your emails and at the end of everyday review what you've done and think about what you need to do tomorrow.

This will drop your anxiety levels ….by about 30 percent.

3. Ask questions, however stupid they may sound

I’m not the first to say this and I certainly won't be the last. As an intern you have to ask questions, after all that is how you learn and more importantly that's how you’ll do the right thing. There's nothing more frustrating for a manager than receiving a piece of work which is incorrect because the intern was too scared to ask. By asking lots of questions you have more one on one speaking time with your boss and therefore be able to get to know them a little bit better. It’s also important for you to let your manager know if there are any areas of the business/ your role you do not understand, so they can invest the time in making sure you are up to speed.

4. Yes, more homework

Hold onto all the information you learned for your interview and review it all before your internship start date. Find out some of the finer details of the company, such as what happens at head office, how many people there are in the company, conduct more research into your department/team online - who works in the team etc as this will give you something to talk about in the first awkward 20 minutes. Avoid LinkedIn! Remember people receive a notification when you are viewing their profiles and this could make you look like a stalker before you even start your internship.

Top tip: Keep up to date with all the latest fashion news.When you walk into the office make sure you are up to date with all the current affairs happening in the world around you. What are the top headlines that morning? What has happened in the fashion industry over night? I was in the first two weeks of working at a British Luxury brand and I walked into the office saying “guess who’s leaving Burberry?”, my boss turned to me and joked that I was more up to date and knowledgeable than her.

5. Dress the part

I have varied opinions on this and I have spoken to many people who feel interns should dress one way and other people believe they should dress as they want –it’s fashion right? The way you dress should always reflect who you are, as it’s how you'll feel most comfortable and it's how you'll perform your best. But it should also reflect the company you work for, if you are in a corporate environment there is likely to be an expectation to dress more conservatively/ formally but if you are at a young budding start up where everyone just wears jeans and a shirt do not feel the need to do a a Julia Roberts and arrive in a black and white Yves Saint Laurent number. Contact your hiring manager before your first day and ask what the company dress code is, they will expect you to ask this anyways. Otherwise just take a good look around you, what are your co workers wearing!

Top tip: I will forever rock a white t shirt, blazer, jeans and Stan Smiths maybe alternating with a pair of sleek black heels. It was my uniform as an intern and it will be my uniform as a fashion editor.

6. You’re not just the intern, you are an employee

You should treat your internship like a real job, because it is one – paid or unpaid. And all jobs in good companies are learning experiences. You should arrive on time and leave when expected. If you take the job seriously your employer will usually take you seriously as well. The work you do as an intern will have an impact on the company you work for - the jobs you undertake do matter and most importantly you are part of a team who will come to count on you to pull your weight.

7. Expect the unexpected - be flexible

One thing I discovered whilst working in fashion PR is that you should expect the unexpected. If your boss needs you to work the Elle Style Awards in two hours and the same day you have decided to wear your most colourful outfit, then you're going to need to figure it out pretty quick. Most fashion events require their staff to be dressed in all black, so be prepared. Keep a spare pair of shoes, black trousers or skirt, top and some deodorant near at hand. You will get a kick out of always being prepared enough to be able to say yes to any invitation and situation and not miss out.

Being the first to put your hand up to offer will get you noticed and before you know, they will stop asking everyone else to help and come straight to you and before you know it they stop asking everyone and come straight to you. You may have to work late or support a fashion event… but if the event is the Fashion Awards, do you really care? Being flexible can be both beneficial to you and the company.

8. Privacy

Getting personal doesn't have to be a bad thing. When you are a member of a team don't be afraid to go to after work drinks or other social situations where you can get to know your team and your boss better.

Social media however is something else. We all use it on a day to day basis to document our lives. Hey I created a whole website documenting my fashion career. Although I have never experienced this, I have had a friend freaking out because her boss asked her to take down an Instagram post. Keep your social channels private. If you are working an event it's probably not the best time to take a selfie with Kylie Jenner and upload it to your Instagram tagging the company you work for especially if you're meant to be on the job.

Everything you do privately that you publish online just think “would I want my boss to see that” if the answer is no… then don't do it.

9. Network

Network like crazy, I built up all my main fashion contacts through my internships. If someone comes into your office and it’s appropriate for you to introduce yourself - do! Do not take on the attitude that you're the intern so you're not allowed to speak. If your boss invites you to something, go! You never know who you're going to meet. Always stay in contact with your colleagues, interns, team members and bosses. If you were a good intern, then they'll remember you and support you when you build your career.

10. Test yourself and ask for feedback

Don't be afraid to go outside your comfort zone. Your bosses will also respect your willingness to go the extra mile. If you need help, ask, but don't just stick to what you think interns should do. There is always something more you can do and certainly there is always something to be learnt, as getting feedback on what you do can sometimes be a little daunting but important. It also shows your boss that you care about your job and want to make sure you are doing it correctly. It’s also a nice time to hear what you're doing well at; we all thrive on positive feedback.

11. Remember your successes

Although you are there to learn you are also there to further your career. Note down everything you do, such as the events you worked, the tasks you completed, and the areas of the company you were involved in. Update your CV and LinkedIn profile to include this relevant information and keep these notes for future interviews.

12. When it’s not what you expected

What to do? You feel the job you are doing does not match the reality of what was offered, you are often ignored and there is little training. It’s sink or swim. You feel you are no more than a dogsbody, taken for granted and despite best efforts to be organised and remain cheerful, you encounter rudeness, and patronising comments. If the everyday reality, then the company is just not for you - remember it won't last forever. But remember to give your company a chance, as it can take anywhere from 2 weeks to a month to properly settle in.

13. Be you

The company you work for hired you because of your skills and talents, so make sure they see them. Try not to complete tasks like a robot, be yourself, and show your personality. You want your boss to like how you work and have faith in the fact you'll do a great job, but also make them proud to have you as part of the team.

So they are my tips! Although they may seem obvious to you, some are things I didn't know going into my internships and wish someone had told me.

By contributing guest editor Hannah Rafter, founder and Editor In Chief of The Intern 247, a website dedicated to giving real insights into the world of fashion. @theintern247 theintern247.com

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The Reality of Interning