When Adam Chepenik sat at his desk on the first day of his internship at a division of New York-based J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., the self-proclaimed extrovert felt out of place.
"I remember walking into One Chase Manhattan Plaza, and my computer didn't work. My telephone didn't work. I didn't know where the bathroom was, and I felt lost," said the May 2003 University of Maryland graduate.
As the summer intern season kicks in over the next few weeks, that's a feeling that plenty of interns will experience during their first few days on the job. Chepenik -- who held a total of six internships during college -- did what local college career advisers say all interns should do. He asked questions.
"It's really indicative of my whole experience," said Chepenik, who is now a financial analyst for J.P. Morgan Private Bank -- a job he was offered a few months after his summer 2002 internship with another division of the company ended. "The most successful people are those who ask a lot of questions."
Asking questions is expected -- and encouraged -- said Alison Small, a staffing manager at Silver Spring-based Discovery Communications Inc., which will play host to 90 interns nationwide this summer.
"This is the intern's opportunity to make a great first impression," Small said. "Employers want interns to be enthusiastic, curious, energetic and interested in business."
That first impression starts at the very beginning. "Don't arrive at the time you're supposed to and don't leave at the time you're supposed to leave, because what you're trying to show is diligence," said LaVern Chapman, who works in employer relations for the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business. That means coming in early and leaving late -- especially during the first few days.
Another important tip: Come prepared. "Even more critical than an intern's first few days on the job is how he or she spends time beforehand," said Jon Marino, 23, another University of Maryland graduate.
For Marino, who earned a bachelor's degree in journalism this month, preparing for the three internships he held meant spending weeks reading the online versions of the newspapers where he was going to work. That prep time "not only had me up to speed on my first day but also provided me with something relevant to discuss with the editors," Marino said.
How you prepare for your internship will vary depending on your field. Check out the company's Web site. Learn more about the work it does. Know the names of those in senior management. Say hello if you pass them in the hall or see them in the elevator.
Small suggests interns come in with a list of priorities and be ready to discuss them with their supervisors. "What do you want to get out of it? Learn the business? Network? Learn about what different people do? Complete a project? Build your resume? Make the most of all opportunities that are there," Small said in an e-mail interview.
Also be sure you know what is expected of you. "Ask for a complete list in writing of what your responsibilities are going to be," Chapman said. "Know expectations from the manager of the department and who you'll be reporting to."
A new intern's questions can range from basic to complicated, said Patricia Carretta, associate dean of George Mason University's career services department. "Ask for resources and materials that will help you learn the job," Carretta said in an e-mail interview. "Ask whom you can turn to for coaching and about co-workers and others who will be a good source of information and support."
Some internships begin with formal orientation programs. These provide general information about the company and sometimes include a tour of the building and the surrounding city. Discovery's orientation includes an overall introduction to the workplace, as well as advice on "how to make your internship successful, and then usually an ice breaker to liven things up," Small said.
If you don't get a formal orientation, be sure to familiarize yourself with your surroundings. Use those first few days to ask the little things. Is it okay to observe senior management meetings? What are your hours? Is there a set time you should take lunch?
Remember, an internship could turn into a full-time job, as it did for Chepenik.
"The most successful interns really look at the internship as an opportunity to learn and contribute," Small said. "They ask questions and are genuinely interested in learning all they can. Those are the ones who often walk away with full-time positions at the end of the program."