Do’s and Don’ts for Excelling at Your First Job


Throughout the last decade, I’ve worked with countless young people in their twenties. I’ve seen interns and associates walk in the door and out, full of excitement and earnestness and hunger. Each person has taught me something fundamental. The best have reaffirmed the beauty of the basics—boundless enthusiasm for new material, short, respectful emails of acknowledgement, new social media tools, the pleasures of an emoji. Others have reminded me of the occupational hazards of our digitally inundated world—poor grammar and spelling; haphazard replies; emails left unanswered. 


Because an internship or entry-level job can be the first building block of one’s career, I thought it might be helpful to offer some do’s and don’ts—the things that matter to so many of us in publishing. 

Dont’s

Don’t check personal social media or text messages all day long. A little break now and then is fine, but try to do this when stepping away from your desk after you’ve completed a task.

Don’t forget a heartfelt thank-you note after an in-person interview, when you accept an internship offer, or when the internship has ended.

Don’t ask for a promotion or reference too early. Six months is appropriate to begin inquiring about next steps. When you have “the conversation,” come prepared with reasons for why you should be promoted and have a salary number in mind as well as a polite way to inquire about the number your boss has in mind. Most importantly, have the conversation in person, but only after asking your boss in advance for a good time to talk. You want to give your boss a chance to prepare, too!

Don’t forget a pen and paper to take notes whenever your supervisor wishes to speak with you—about anything! No one should simply rely on recollection. We swear by Asana to make sure nothing slips through the cracks.

Don’t make promises you can’t keep: if you mention taking care of work later from home or over the weekend, commit to delivering on this promise.

Don’t sneak out at the end of the day. It’s always best practice to announce your arrival and departure, and to ask if there’s anything you can handle before leaving.

Don’t offer someone senior to you as a job reference unless you’ve previously cleared it with that person. You don’t want to catch anyone by surprise!

Don’t shy away from taking initiative when you know you’ve mastered something and can do it well.

Do’s

Do prioritize responding to emails. Even if you’re overwhelmed and can’t humanly get on top of all the tasks flying at you, confirm receipt of an email. If a new assignment is not something you can tend to right away, respond with when you plan to turn to it, and hold yourself accountable to that deadline.

Do arrive ten minutes early and leave ten minutes late. Everyone notices small acts of diligence like these.

Do re-read emails to any third party you’re corresponding with before sending it off, particularly if spelling or grammar is an issue for you. If you’re responsible for a company’s social media feeds, this rule applies doubly. And if you’re unsure about grammar or syntax etc., Google the correct language first.

Do run a draft by the person you report to: a letter, a tweet, etc. Until your supervisor authorizes you to do otherwise, sending a draft should be your MO.

Do err on the side of apology. Even when you know you’re right but are called out for an error, even when the mistake seems so small it’s not worth acknowledging, apologizing shows respect.

Do ask if you can grab coffee or lunch for others you’re working for. These small acts of kindness count, and show awareness and humility.

Do dress for the job. This is your job, and you never know who you’ll run into that day, be it a prospective client or a future job contact. Even if you’re working at home, as we all are at the moment, get out of your pajamas!

Do call your boss or swing by if you have a quick question. Too many emails with questions don’t help anyone’s workload!

Do go the extra mile to check in every month to ask if there’s anything you can do to improve.

Do show general curiosity and ask questions about anything you’re unclear on or anything about the trade. You’re in this to learn.

Do you measure up to our “Do” list? Or know someone who would? Great, because we’re hiring! Summer intern positions are now available at our New York City office.