How to Survive Your First Week of Work in the “Real World”

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As you are getting ready to start your summer internship, research experience or summer job, here are a couple of tips and tricks to ensure you are successful and feel prepared for what’s to come.

Before you start

1. Research

Make sure to find out as much as possible about your work site. You can find important information on the organization’s website and social media channels, recent news headlines, and possibly even reviews and feedback from users or customers. While you are at it, also look up and write down the organization’s mission statement.

2. Plan your commute

Find out how you will get there (e.g. car, public transportation, etc.), plan your route and figure out about how long it will take. If you have the time, consider a “test drive” to your internship/job site. This will alleviate a lot of stress on the first day of work. If necessary, factor in time and/or money for parking (will you need a parking pass?)

On your first day

1. Dress nicely

Dress more formally at the beginning of your internship.  Once you’ve seen what other people at the organization wear and have asked your supervisor about the dress code, you may be able to tone it down, but it is safer to start slightly overdressed than to make a poor first impression.

2. Be on time

It is wise to arrive 15-20 minutes ahead of time. This doesn’t mean you should actually show up at your office this early–once you get close to where you need to be, you can eat a snack or drink some water and give yourself a chance to catch your breath. This technique allows you to collect yourself before actually meeting with someone; it also creates a time buffer in case you get lost or encounter unexpected traffic.

3. Meet with your supervisor(s)

Bring a copy of your position description and a pen/paper for notes (this is a good idea for all meetings) and make sure to actually write something down! If you prefer to take notes on your phone, ask your supervisor for permission (and make sure in group meetings that people know you are using your phone to take notes.) Review your duties, ask about punctuality (if a meeting starts at 10:30, when are people expected to arrive?), confirm how long and when meal breaks are, and ask about dress code as well as your supervisor(s)’ availability for answering your questions.

What to bring

1. Purse, tote, or backpack

Bring a backpack or purse and consider packing a water bottle and at least a snack (apple, granola bars) if not a lunch. These will come in handy in case the day runs long or there aren’t any appetizing or affordable stores/restaurants nearby.

2. Notebook, pens & pencils

Write down the organization’s address, information about parking/commute, your supervisor’s email and phone number, etc.

3. Folder (for important documents)

Check in advance whether you will need government-issued identification to fill out paperwork. The folder you bring could contain photocopies of your driver’s license/ID, social security card, and/or passport/visa documentation; your position description and any other paperwork you have received from your supervisor; and any parking passes that you might need to validate.

4. Wallet

Pack at least $15.00 cash for a meal on your first day. It is somewhat common to invite new people to lunch (or drinks for those 21 and over). While your organization might pay for you, it is wise to have enough cash to pay for yourself. Make sure you also have your driver’s license and a credit or debit card.

Some pointers to have the best experience possible

1. Determine what you need to do for your job

In other words, if you are unsure about something, especially at the beginning, ask for clarification. In time, find the balance between asking questions and figuring things out (read: asking the internet) on your own.

2. Timelines

Sometimes supervisors assign a project and forget to say when it’s due.  It is okay to ask when they need a draft or a final version.

3. Professionalism

It is important to earn your colleagues’ respect. That means: 1) be on time, for meetings and deadlines, 2) respect your co-workers’ work space (cubicle space/office/laptop), and 3) don’t use your work time for personal calls, texts and emails

4. Maintain a good attitude!

Learn as much as you can. Meet people, build relationships and don’t get discouraged if something does not work right away. This is your time to try something new and grow both personally and professionally.

All the best for your summer!

Your Internship Doctor 🙂


Contact Victoria Wolff, M.Ed., Assistant Director for Internship Programs, who is responsible for internship program management and oversight in the Student Engagement Center at Whitman College (

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