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10 Qualities of a Successful Intern

July 25, 2011

David Qaoud (@DavidQaoud on Twitter) is a marketing and advertising student at Northwest Missouri State University who is on track to graduate in December.

David Qaoud, AT&T internBy David Qaoud

For the past two summers, I have done an Internship with AT&T Services downtown St. Louis, Mo. To say that I have learned a lot would be an understatement. I want to give you some helpful advice on how you can absolutely thrive during your internship. Of course there’s more than 10, but the following are the top 10 things every intern must do:

Tip #1: Take Initiative.

Inspired by a recent Harvard Business Review Article, taking initiative is the single most important thing you must do during your internship. Your job is to make your boss’ life easier and produce results. Always try to anticipate what your boss needs and deliver it before he or she asks.

Tip #2: Work Hard.

To state the obvious, you must work hard. Every day you must have the mentality that you’re going to give 110% effort in all that you do. Once you leave after completing your internship your boss may forgot a lot about you, but if you worked hard, he or she will never forget that.

Tip #3: Be Humble.

Most interns aren’t humble. Don’t be that intern. Cultivate a sense of humility in your life in and out of work. Nothing is more attractive than humility and nothing is more unattractive than arrogance. Pride comes before destruction and humility comes before honor. Which do you prefer?

Tip# 4: Under Promise and Over Deliver.

This is a sure fire formula for success. Credentials are good but results are better. You got in the door but to stay in the door you must produce. Period. Under promising and over delivering in everything will help you in that area.

Tip#5: Be Quick to Listen and Slow to Speak.

The last thing you want to be known for is the intern who talked too much. The more you talk the less people listen. The more words you use the less power your words will have. Listen twice as much as you talk and you will thrive in your communication.

Tip #6: Treat Everyone Equally.

I met Randall Stephenson who is the CEO and Chairman of AT&T. I have also interacted with most of the custodians on my floor. Always show respect for everyone and never show partiality because of someone’s status or position. Treat everyone the same and treat others the way you want to be treated.

Tip #7: Never Feel Inferior.

The moment you feel superior or inferior your identity is in the wrong place. In one sense you must be humble, but in another you must have confidence. If you don’t believe that you can get the job done, no one else will. Be confident and don’t feel inadequate.

Tip #8: Ask a Lot of Questions.

I can’t stress this enough. Ask as many questions as you can. It’s better to ask a stupid question than it is to make a stupid mistake that could have been avoided. Your boss knows you’re an intern and they expect you to ask questions. Never hesitate to do so.

Tip #9: Be Observant.

Perhaps the most shocking thing I learned while interning is the amount of gossip and immaturity that is prevalent within the workforce today. Some people in their forties still act like they’re 14. Take note of everything—avoid the negative things and imitate the positive ones.

Tip #10: Take Advice.

I have met a lot of senior executives within AT&T. The main question I always ask at the end of our time together is, “What’s the biggest piece of advice that you have for me?” Executives love to answer that question and I have learned a great deal from doing so.

My advice for you? Follow those ten steps.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Eric Woodard July 25, 2011 at 4:15 pm

Sounds good to me David! Thanks for the tips!

Only thing I'd say about #8 – it's important for interns to ask good questions – not necessarily as many as they can.

In other words, a great intern will do everything they reasonably can to answer a question on their own before they put it on the list for their boss.

…and why a list? Because unless something really can't wait, a great intern will group their questions – ask them all at once – maybe just once or twice a day. And they will write down the answer for everything they ask. That way, you'll never have to ask the same question twice, and your boss will know you're taking their time seriously.

I like Tip#4 – that's like Scotty on Star Trek when he tells Captain Kirk they can only go Warp 4 – when he's really got Warp 6 in his back pocket!


Alex July 26, 2011 at 11:28 am

Agreed on point #8 — it reminded me of this article I just read on Harvard Business Review. Otherwise, I think the list is spot-on.


David Qaoud July 27, 2011 at 5:41 pm

Alex – Thanks for posting. I also linked that article in tip #1. Jodi Glickman, the author of that article, read my article and tweeted about it earlier today:!/greatonthejob

Eric – You make a *decent* point though still debatable. Don't want to pressure interns and say “ONLY ask good questions” as my boss would agree. However, your point would be suitable for a full-time employee.


Sarah Says August 2, 2011 at 2:00 pm

Considering your “be humble” tip, I'm reminded of a cocky kid who interviewed at our company and spent a great deal of time bragging about what he'd accomplished even though he wasn't the expert he professed to be. Maintaining a healthy amount of humility will get you far in business and in life!


Alex August 2, 2011 at 3:11 pm

Seems like if you've sat in on five job interviews these days, you're bound to have seen one of these kids. Big mistake — people need to realize that the “Would I enjoy working with this person?” factor can be just as important as actual qualifications.

BTW, good job on your blog, Sarah. I think we're going to tease to one of your posts in our morning links tomorrow.


David Qaoud August 3, 2011 at 5:25 pm

Sarah – Thanks for that real-world example. Great point on humility can take one a long way.


Cindy September 29, 2011 at 1:47 pm

You're a real deep thinker. Thanks for sharnig.


spencer January 9, 2013 at 2:47 pm

David – is this the “Student Intern I” position at AT&T? ( ) If so, can you please email me more information on what you were doing? Their site doesn't explain much. Thanks in advance.


Jasmine Davis September 24, 2013 at 11:19 am

Firstly I would like to say this is really some incredible advice. I am an intern myself who is just currently browsing how I can become a better intern and to use these traits in my personal life as well. Tip #4 stood out to me because If you get your foot in the door it's up to you to stay there. Just be relevant. In a good way make your manager not forget who you are ever. Never ever get too comfortable with anyone in your work place. Their bad habits can rub off on you and potentially set you up for failure without you noticing it. (It happened to me recently). If you don't or if you are done your work as for more. If there isn't any research things like how to become a better person. I look up wisdom and motivational quotes everyday. If you just remember what goals you have set, and you feel that you or your manager thinks your slacking think back to the goals you have set. Ask yourself ” How are my goals going to be accomplished if I'm screwing up. Don't take anything personal. Your manager have things going on within their selves. If you know for an fact that you didn't do anything just leave the situation alone. Don't beat yourself up. Here's a book by Don Miguel Ruiz called the Fifth agreement. It's incredible.


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