Lessons In Making A Good First Impression From The Best Interns Ever

Years later, employers still talk about them. Here’s how the best interns make everyone want to help their careers flourish.

Lessons In Making A Good First Impression From The Best Interns Ever
[Photo:Sprachschuleaktiv via Pixabay]

A summer internship is a small window to make a good impression. The interns who knock it out of the park can provide valuable examples for anyone who wants to make a good impression in a new job.


Show Why You Really Want To Work There

Erika Ebbel Angle, founder and executive director of Science from Scientists, a nonprofit that sends scientists into classrooms, says that “our recent intern reached out to us and desperately wanted to work with us. I think this is critical. Ultimately, as with employees, one wants to have individuals working at the company who really want to be there and who fit the company culture.”

Often, this is because they’re really familiar with (and love) the products. “Our intern Daisy came to us as a loyal Swagbucks user herself,” says Sarah Aibel, vice president of brand marketing and communication at Prodege LLC, the parent company of Swagbucks. “Her knowledge of the site and understanding of users similar to her give us unique and invaluable insights into why millennials are turning to our site, what kind of offers excite them, and how we can find new and innovative ways to reach them.”

Related: How One Industrious Undergrad Tweeted, Photoshopped, And Hustled Her Way Into Her Dream Internship

Be Willing To Work Hard

Employers notice when people volunteer for extra work that’s got to get done. With interns, “The best ones are not the smartest, but they do work the hardest,” says Mary Mazzio, founder and CEO of 50 Eggs Films, an independent production company. “So if something is time sensitive, they will offer to work on weekends or nights to get the job done.”

Joe Cross, head of North America at TransferWise, a money transfer service, has appreciated interns who are smart without the corresponding ego. “The best interns I’ve had have never complained about the tasks being beneath him or her,” he says. “Admin-heavy duties were handled with the same care as in-depth projects. The interns understood that even small tasks provide an opportunity to showcase skills (from time management to plain old common sense) and drive.”

Think One Step Ahead

Mana Ionescu, president of the digital marketing agency Lightspan Digital, had an intern last year who “blew my mind,” she says. “During one of our team meetings last summer, we were discussing changes to Facebook’s search features.” No one knew much about the topic, but shortly after that meeting, Ionescu received an email from her intern that said she had wanted to learn more, so she researched the topic and put together a document with her findings. “Then she took it one step further—she offered to run some tests and blog about it.”


It was a textbook example of doing everything right: “She showed curiosity, took initiative to do something without being asked, and added extra value by offering to apply the information she gathered.”

Be Easy To Work With

Mazzio says that, over years of managing interns, she has come to treasure “a cheerful disposition. This characteristic trumps brainpower, 99-1.” That means the person is “upbeat, responds well to constructive criticism (e.g. does not take comments personally), and becomes an enthusiastic member of the team.” In other words, the sort of person who “gets excited when we have cookies.”

Andy Pray, founder of Praytell, a creative communications agency, says that his best intern ever was “always on time, always said yes, and wasn’t afraid to try things that made her uncomfortable.”

This sort of reliability quickly leads to more responsibility. Barrett Garese, who was working at a major talent agency in Los Angeles when he had an amazing intern, says, “It was the way she completed things completely and with thought that made me comfortable getting her more and more involved in my day-to-day work world.” The agency extended her an offer to work in a full-time position, and “she absolutely nailed it there, too.”

Get To Know People

Ginger Porter, managing director of the Dallas and Atlanta offices at the communications firm Golin, created Golin’s “Unternship” program. This program sets its “unterns” free to gather experiences outside the office. The best “look for ways to stand out and create relationships from their first day,” she says. Porter recalls that a standout intern once asked someone to coffee every day of his three-month internship. Not only did he make quite an impression, the upside for him was pretty obvious too: “When the internship ended, he had 75 new business contacts to help with his job search.”

Be Yourself

The best interns, and the best new employees generally, have their own personal brands, and they’re not afraid to stay authentic to these identities. Pray says that his best intern “had mastered Twitter from a pretty young age, bringing a fresh, funny, weird voice to her feed.” From day one on the job, she was able to take that voice and “nearly immediately figure out a way to make it work for client copy needs.” Part of her being great is that she knew “not to stray too far from what makes her great.” The result? A great experience for her and her employer, too.  


About the author

Laura Vanderkam is the author of several time management and productivity books, including I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time (Portfolio, June 9, 2015), What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast (Portfolio, 2013), and 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think (Portfolio, 2010). She blogs at


Attend Innovation Festival keynotes with Robert Downey Jr. and Janelle Monáe for free. Claim your pass now.