By UNCFSP | December 13, 2011
UNCF Special Programs Corporation supports students from across the country to make meaningful contributions around the globe and in their own back yard. This summer, UNCFSP selected five students from various Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) to serve as SP Scholars. As part of their experience, Scholars were challenged to contribute to the corporation in various ways- one of which was to write a blog.
The fifth and final blog in the series was written by Kahlil Green, a senior Howard University Psychology major with a minor in African American studies:
During my collegiate career I was fortunate enough to have interned with three excellent government agencies; The City of Fort Worth Mayor’s Office, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Department of Energy (DOE). This past summer, I interned with United Negro College Fund Special Programs Corporation (UNCFSP), where the motto is, “Never Miss an Opportunity.” Just like UNCFSP’s motto, I realized that I was fortunate to gain an experience that would help me formulate my life goals and encourage me to help other interns with theirs. After my six-week long experience, I realized one of the key lessons I learned was how to properly navigate the workplace.
There is a unique culture that exists within every office. As an intern it is your job to figure out that culture, and to discern what behavior is and is not appropriate. As a rule of thumb I always say, when in doubt, ask your supervisor. Knowing and understanding your office’s culture could prevent misinterpreted social cues and potential misunderstandings.
Environment – There is one thing in particular that I will always remember from my experience as an intern, and that is no matter what working environments you are in, each has its own preferred form of communication. Some offices prefer direct lines of communication (i.e., in-person or phone), while others favor a more indirect way of communicating (i.e., memo or email). It is your job to find out which one your direct chain of command prefers– this would be the person directly responsible for your day-to-day activities.
Communication – In addition to understanding how to communicate effectively in the workplace, you must learn how to use the communication tools around you effectively. Email will be the most common way to communicate with your colleagues and outside parties in the work place. You must always be aware that you are a representative of your office and should follow all email protocol. This means, if you are emailing someone, whether in office or out, you should always make sure that you are emailing from your work account and not your personal account. If you decide to send an email from your personal account, that could give the perception that the email is personal in nature.
Networking – During my internship, I also learned the art of networking and that “you are your own brand!” There is a significant difference between having someone’s business card or telephone number and having a relationship with that person. Fostering relationships in the office and during office outings is essential to an intern’s success. For example, during the internship at UNCFSP, we received the opportunity to visit the U.S. Capitol, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and attended meetings at the Peace Corps Headquarters, Africare, and the World Bank. After each visit I created connections instead of just contacts, by emailing and maintaining consistent communication with the people I encountered. Also, another key indicator that the email is business in nature is attaching a signature block in your email. The signature block should consist of your name, title, company name, company address, company telephone number, and your company email address. This information will also help when someone wants to reply to your email and it is an easier way to keep a paper trail.
Progress – Speaking of paper trails, make sure you track your work progress during your internship. This could very well be one of the most vital pieces of information — because some employers think, “out of sight, out of mind.” If you do not show a log of what you have been doing, it may be misconstrued that you are not doing any work. You always want to keep the lines of communication open. You can do this through email. Simply, anytime you send out, receive, speak, or present any type of information, make sure you blind copy your work and email accounts, just in case. You can never be too safe when it comes to information sharing.
It has been a humbling journey learning the ropes in various office spaces, and that journey was indeed a matter of trial and much error. Yet with those experiences I gained much insight and wisdom, and today I hope that I am imparting what I learned to other potential interns—in any internship as well as one at UNCFSP.
Kahlil Green, UNCFSP 2011 Scholar