The ultimate survival guide to your first internship

by Jul 1, 2019

Entering into your first internship can be just as daunting as your first job. It might even be more so if your internship is in the field you want a career in.

So we compiled a survival guide to get you through the first couple of days at your internship, and to get you moving towards your future careers.

Be clear

Let me be clear

If you haven’t already discussed this with your manager before your first day, there are some things that you need to know from day-dot. Figure out how many hours you will be working each day, how many days a week, and for how long. When does your day start and finish? How long is your break? Are you expected to be in attendance of office events, or pitch in out of hours? Find out, and if possible, have it written into your contract, or emailed to you.

Set goals

You want something out of this internship just as much as your employer does. They might be looking to hire new talent, or they could just be needing an extra set of hands. But the important thing to ask yourself is what do you want out of this internship?

Do you want a career with this company at the end? Are there certain skills that you would like to develop? Are you trying to figure out if this is the industry that you want to go into after you finish your studies?

Sit down and have an honest chat with your manager and figure out how you can both help each other achieve what you want out of this internship. If possible, set up weekly meetings to see how you’re tracking with you goals, and where you can improve.


Ask questions

Jennifer lawrence, please ask questions

Ultimately, you are in this position to learn. Sitting quietly in the corner, trying to muddle your way through work you don’t understand is not going to get you anywhere. Speak up when you’re confused, ask the clarifying question if you don’t understand the explanation, and check-up if you find yourself in a grey area.

You’ll be saving yourself in the long run. If you ask the question first you won’t have to redo the task later.

Besides, you’re using this internship to explore your options aren’t you? Ask questions about how the company works, what the other roles in the office do, and how you might fit in there one day.

Dress professional

Professional  here means in line with company policy. If you’re interning at an internet startup and at your interview they were all wearing denim jackets, by all means throw on your faded blue.

I have nothing to wear

But if you’re working in a suit and tie industry, it’s time to scrub up. Dress for the job that you want, not the one you’re interning at.

‘Fess Up

If you make a mistake, don’t try and sweep it under the rug. For starters, you’re so new you don’t even know where the rug is. Mistakes happen, and they’re all a part of the learning environment. The bigger issue generally comes about when you don’t say anything about your mistake and it snowballs into a giant problem. ‘Fess up early and ask to be shown how to fix it.

tony NCIS apologising

Figure out the coffee machine

Not for you to get coffee for your manager, but for you to get coffee for yourself. It’s a godsend if you’re not used to working the classic 9-5 internship.

Futurama too much coffee


The perils of getting into an internship is the amount of money you’re suddenly spending. You’re in an office, in the middle of the city, with a variety of lunch options just a moment’s walk away. And they’re looking a lot better than your left overs in your sad Tupperware.

But be warned, buying lunch a couple of days a week does add up pretty quickly. Especially if you’re also buying snacks, coffee, and that cute top you saw on the walk in.

Mr Crabbs Washing

Set yourself both a weekly and a daily budget and then stick to it.

Grow your professional network

One of the reasons you’re doing an internship is to grow your professional network. That’s not going to happen if you don’t get out there and talk to people. Meet new people, engage in lunch time conversations, and follow up with a LinkedIn add. Depending on your work environment though, that LinkedIn invitation can wait until after your internship.

sarcastic comment

And make friends

Life is so much better when you’ve got friends around you. Go into your internship with an open mind, a can-do attitude, and a handful of questions, and you’ll be sure to make some friends in no time.

Chandler jumping into Joey's Arms

Feature image courtesy of Unsplash

By Clare Aston

By Clare Aston

Copywriting and content intern at UTS Careers

Clare Aston is the current copywriting and content producing intern for UTS Careers. She is studying her Masters of Creative Writing at UTS, as well as juggling other interning and writing opportunities.   

She thrives on literary discussions and is always on the hunt for new book recommendations. She has experience copywriting for both print and digital media and is interested in the way social media can be read as a narrative structure.

Clare is often to be found with her nose in a book and her head in the clouds.