Day one at my first internship had a rocky start. I was so excited and nervous I wasn’t thinking straight, and I fumbled over the elevator buttons to get to the second floor! After struggling for a while, a facilities worker who was in the elevator graciously pushed the correct button and got me to the second floor. Thankfully, the rest of my first day got better from there, and that internship ended up being a wonderful experience.
It is normal to feel insecure and unsure of yourself when you are starting your first job or internship. It can be tricky to know how to behave and what your boss and coworkers expect. And thankfully, being an excellent employee is not complicated!
I am still new to the workforce (I start my first full time job in July), but I have a friend named Darla who worked in human resources for thirty years. During that time, she served as a director of HR for over seven HR departments across the US, set up the entire HR department for different companies twice in her career, and had her own HR consulting firm. If you are not familiar with human resources, they are the “people experts” of a company, especially when it comes to hiring new employees. People like Darla understand the best behaviors and characteristics for employees to have! Darla graciously shared with me her top five tips on how to be an excellent employee.
1) Don’t think you know it all – be humble and trainable.
Go into your first job or internship excited to learn and grow. Do NOT be afraid to ask questions! Different jobs range in their amount of training.
On day one of my first internship, I was given a thick intern manual, an intern orientation, and a tour of the office. However, with my current job at an elementary school (which actually started out as an internship!), I really wasn’t given any specific instructions. Whether you work for a rigid, structured organization or a “learn as you go” organization, always remember to be humble, be teachable, and ask questions!
Darla mentioned that a big part of being teachable is owning your mistakes and shortcomings because no one is perfect. Everyone is going to mess up. At my first internship, I accidentally threw away a list of donors and their addresses rather than shredding it. Well, that day I had to be teachable AND dig through the trash can to retrieve the list so I could shred it! I never made that mistake again. It is important to apologize and determine to do better next time.
Learning from mistakes is vital, but there is no reason to beat yourself up. Our goal as employees is not to be perfect. Our mission is to do our best, and allow God to work through our efforts!
2) Have a good attitude in everything you do.
It’s especially important to keep a good attitude when the job is difficult or you don’t know what you’re doing. Darla mentioned that a positive attitude will help others overlook your mistakes.
Having a positive attitude is often easier said than done. After I graduated college, I dealt with insomnia for about a month. I was working as a teaching assistant, and I had to get up at six every morning to get ready for work. Having a good attitude at work when I had barely slept the night before was tough. Something that really helped me was to keep praising through my circumstances. On my twenty minute commute, I would blast my praise music and sing along. This made all the difference in changing my attitude and helping me to push through the exhaustion. In Philippians 4:4, Paul says to “Rejoice in the Lord always.” That means rejoicing and having a good attitude, even when the circumstances are not the best.
3) Help others every day.
Try to finish your work and then look to see who else needs help with theirs. This not only will help them, but give you training in other areas! If you will pay attention, you will find that there is always something to get done! If you have nothing to do, let your boss and coworkers know!
At my first internship, there would be days where I didn’t have much to do. On those days, I would email all the team members to let them know that I was available to help, and they often found projects for me. At the school I currently work at, there is never a dull moment. When there’s a pause during the day, I find papers to grade, or I’ll go to the school kitchen and wash dishes. Make yourself useful. Bosses do not want to have to micromanage their employees, and they love employees who are self-starters!
4) You have something unique to contribute!
This is one of the most surprising things to me as a young employee. Even though you may be the youngest and least experienced person in the organization, you still have something unique to bring to the table. You have God-given talents that no one else has! No matter how unusual, unique, or different your talent is, it will probably come in handy.
I make balloon animals for kid’s ministry events, and I offered to make balloon animals for all the students at my work on the last day of school. The principal was very grateful that I did that, and the kids were so excited! You may be young but you have something unique to bring (even if it’s just balloon animals!). You may think it’s a hidden or inconsequential talent, but it is always worthwhile.
Rebelutionary, I have no doubt that you are going to be amazing in your internship or job, no matter how nervous or scared you are! Don’t be a perfectionist, and enjoy the adventure. God has a unique calling on your life, and the work you do is a part of that calling.