‘Tis the Season to Be Polite

The holiday season is a time to celebrate with family and friends. But any time you bring people together in social situations, there is an increased need for etiquette.

Before you turn away thinking that etiquette is all about stuffiness and antiquated rules, realize that etiquette plays an important role in society. Etiquette is about good manners, yes, but it is even more about making other people feel comfortable by the way we behave. It is thinking of others, not just of ourselves, and showing respect for others and ourselves at the same time.

With new spring internships right around the corner, I thought this would be a good opportunity to define some basic new intern etiquette.

Use your professional voice.

As an intern, you are likely the youngest person in the organization and will be working with seasoned professionals who understand workplace lingo. Communicating in a professional manner will go a long way in garnering respected from your new colleagues. Watch your language–no swearing, don’t be negative, don’t gossip, and keep suggestive comments or jokes to yourself. Become a pro at good emailing. Keep messages short and to the point. Use best writing practices, include a subject line, and use your email program’s signature feature. Finally, practice good phone etiquette. Answer your phone in a professional manner, introducing yourself, being polite, and smiling (the person on the other end can “hear” that smile).

Good morning, Mr. Bossman.

Have you ever maintained a relationship with one of your elementary school teachers into adulthood, only to hit a point when it’s acceptable to call him or her by first name? I have, and it feels incredibly weird. Well, pretend everyone in your new workplace is your teacher and address them formally –Mr. and Ms. So-and-So (Ms. is a safer choice than Mrs. or Miss). Undoubtedly, you will be invited to address people by their first names, but wait until that happens before going there.

Show how responsible you are.

Want to be taken seriously as an intern? Then help your supervisor understand that you can handle it by showing him/her how responsible you are. Be at work on time every single day–and by on time, I mean five minutes early. Don’t slack. The internet provides many wonderful distractions, but don’t be tempted. Stay focused on your work and complete projects on time. If you must miss work, make sure it’s for an important reason (ex. doctor’s appointment) and give your supervisor at least a week’s notice.

There is a lot more to internship and office etiquette than this, but these three points should get you off to a good start.


Laura serves as Internship Coordinator at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater in the office of Career & Leadership Development.  In this role, Laura advises students who are pursuing internships, assists employers with intern recruitment, and supports university faculty who oversee academic internships.  She also provides students with job search readiness assistance through presentations, individual counseling, and social media.  Laura earned her bachelors degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she majored in French and Political Science, and she received her masters degree in Counseling from UW-Whitewater.  To learn more about Laura, read her blog, follow her on Twitter, or connect on LinkedIn.

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