What NOT to Wear as an Intern or Summer Associate

Jun46_miniWe’ve had a few great conversations on here about summer internships and summer associates (including what not to DO at your internship) and general professional fashion gaffes, but I thought we should have an open thread of advice for all the interns and summer associates starting out this summer. (Pictured: ZooBorns is a new-to-me site featuring baby zoo animal pictures.  The baby lion cub seemed relevant here…)

For my own $.02, here are some tips:

  • DO NOT WEAR SHORTS OR SANDALS OF ANY KIND UNLESS YOU SEE A SUPERIOR DO IT.  Similarly, your first week has probably already passed, but take a look around your office at the women superiors (NOT the other interns): are they wearing pantyhose when they wear skirts?  If they are, do not go bare-legged.
  • How long are your skirts?  Even if you didn’t grow up watching Ally McBeal, far too many skirts that are sold as professional ones are a bit too short for the office.  Check out our diagram and poll on how short is too short for an office skirt.
  • If you wear flip-flops for the commute, get those suckers off the second you get to the office. Going to a cocktail party after work does not count as “commuting” — find shoes that are comfortable to stand in.
  • Assess your hair. I passed a girl on the street yesterday wearing a messy bun on the very tippy-top of her head (a look I wore myself in my early 20s) and thought, “Perhaps she works in a creative field.” My point here: There are a ton of cute ways to pull your hair back on the weekend, but make sure that your casual “need to get my hair out of my face right this instant” look is appropriate for your office culture.  Hint: a low pony-tail works most everywhere; any ponytail or bun that sits higher than your ears may be suspect.
  • If you’re still learning the office culture but you interviewed in a blazer, bring one in to the office. Just a simple black one or white one will do. Then, if you get called to an important meeting at the last minute, throw a blazer on top of whatever you’re wearing.
  • Don’t carry a Birkin or any other accessory or clothing item that suggests that Daddy (or your sugar Daddy) buys you things. As I advised the young woman who wanted to carry her Birkin to her internship:  Even if you’re 100% committed to your career, the first impression you’re making is a negative one, and you may not get a chance to correct it personally with every person who notices.  So don’t do it.

Finally, this isn’t a fashion tip, but a more general one: Know your place. One of the weekend commenters mentioned going to a business meeting and being shocked that her opponent’s intern blocked the exit and talked loudly about her own general studies in the field — and I found myself nodding in agreement because I’ve seen that person (male and female) a million times and it never reads well. When you’re at a meeting with anyone outside your immediate company — e.g., clients, opponents — your role is to observe. Contributions are fine, but brevity and quality are the name of the game unless whoever you’re speaking with presses further.

This should be a fun discussion — readers, what advice do you wish you could give the interns at your workplace?  What gaffes have you seen?

Comments

  1. Young Lawyer :

    Don’t date someone at the office, ESPECIALLY a superior. Just don’t. It can backfire big time.

  2. anon for the sake of the summers :

    At my big firm already this year:
    -far too short skirts (5″+ above the knee)
    -flat shoes in poor, scuffed up condition
    -spike heels with 1″ platforms
    -taking off shoes under the meeting table (yes, I can see you)
    -visible undergarments (straps, VPL, bra cup lines)
    -sleeveless tops (I can see how this would be fine if it was hot here, but it’s not)
    -tops with necklines that are either too low to begin with, or show far too much when bending over a desk
    -strappy sandals (again, it’s not hot)
    -strappy sandals with feet in poor condition (polish is not mandatory IMO, but tidy/healthy is)
    -sheer shirts are not made ok by wearing a cami underneath
    -perhaps most bizarrely, carrying designer purse everywhere, including to meetings in the building

    • anon for the sake of the summers :

      Oh dear, I should have been more specific on VPL. I also refuse to wear thongs, and I expect on occasion, I have inadvertent VPL despite my properly fitting trousers and skirts. What I meant by VPL is when the summer wears too tight/stretchy/body conscious pants or skirts: regardless of underwear style, one can see the outline of the underwear all the time because the pants are simply too tight or too small or made with too flimsy fabric. And it can actually be worse to be wearing a thong in those too-tight bottoms – the lack of VPL under the sprayed-on clothing makes me wonder whether the intern is wearing underwear at all, which I really don’t want to be thinking about.

      After witnessing this today, another to add: leave your ipod at home. You do not need to be listening to music during your internship. Once you are hired, maybe, but it looks bad when I come to talk to you and you’re wearing ear buds, especially if you didn’t see/hear me come in.

      • I agree with this. I don’t think it counts as VPL if a faint outline of your underwear appears when you are climbing a flight of stairs, crouching down to pick up a box of files, etc. If your pants are tight enough that your panty line is visible at all times, including standing still, then that is not really work appropriate attire.

      • Unless your superiors tell you it’s okay. I work an internship at my school (in the Office of Sustainability), and the office has only existed since 2007. so the facilities aren’t really sufficient for the number of interns. Therefore, 4 or more of us are often crammed at one desk (both sides) at any given time. We’re encouraged to do what we need to do in order to get our work done, whether that means using an iPod or working from home on days without meetings.

    • Maybe she has bathroom supplies with her that she is going to bring to the ladies room with her should she step out of the meeting. I use a small clutch for this purpose. My office is on floor x, meeting is on floor y, I know I might need a tampon, etc.

    • Barrister in the Bayou :

      VPL is a touchy one for me. I hate seeing them, but I also don’t want to wear thongs to work every day. I wear seamless underwear and they still show! My pants are the right size and if I size up on the underwear they will be too big. I’m just curvy back there and happen to despise boy shorts because they always bunch up. After a certain point, I decided to let it go.

      • Kathryn Fenner :

        I really like the Jockey No Visible Panty Line Promise modern briefs, and I am a person of butt. They are too high waisted for lower rise pants, but I avoid those, too–mid rise is fine…

    • I actually think a number of these things are totally OK and I work in a conservative office, though its always about how you wear it/carry yourself — looking put together overall makes any outfit seem a lot more appropriate. OK, for example, with high heels, even thoughts with a small platform (and I assume you mean stilleto, which I of course think is totally fine), sleeveless tops, and sheer shirts (totally dependent on the shirt) with a cami underneath

    • Here’s a humorous article about the subject… http://www.slate.com/id/2296626/

  3. Just a general note – let’s try to keep this a helpful discussion instead of just venting about hilarious and/or inappropriate outfits we’ve seen. I saw someone today with pants that were too tight, and I’ve made that mistake as well, so I check my pants in a variety of lights to make sure they’re not too tight/sheer in the back so you have VPL. Black doesn’t always automatically mean opaque in a thin fabric!

    • You can find pants with the perfect fit this coming Fall at Quincy Apparel (www.quincyapparel.com)–a new clothing company that makes it easier for professional women to get dressed for work!

  4. Checking your blackberry during a meeting. You are an intern – the company/firm/etc. will not collapse if you are off the grid for an hour, nor will anyone scream at you for being unavailable. Turn it off and pay attention.

    • Uh, they may scream at you… But only the crazy ones. When I was a summer associate, we didn’t have blackberries (presumably cost-saving). Earlier years always had and one of the associates a bunch of us were working for just assumed we did, too. She got super pissed when none of us responded to her “urgent” (it wasn’t that urgent) email for two hours because we were in a meeting about other things. When she realized we didn’t actually have blackberries, she was apologetic, but make sure the people you’re working with know if you don’t.

    • Anonymous :

      Geesh, why can’t this be the rule for everyone?! I hate being in meetings that take twice as long because we’re constantly recapping what’s already been said or decided by someone captivated by their gadget.

  5. Even if you do see your superior wearing shorts and sandals, proceed with caution before doing so yourself. Your superiors already have a job. You do not.

    Don’t get wasted at office functions, or even just a little drunk if you are prone to say stupid things even if you’re just a little tipsy. This should be obvious, and yet, it happens.

    • Agree with both. As to the first, I disagree with Cat’s advice to the extent that I think you shouldn’t take your cues from what a single woman does. Instead, take your cues from what MOST (or at least a plurality) of women in your office do.

      You have not been there long enough, and do not know enough about the office politics, to know whether any particular person has a reputation for being kooky or eccentric in her dress, or whether that person works with a different family of clients where she will blend in on site but you will stand out like a sore thumb in a different context, or whether someone is thought of as being so competent at her job that she has in effect “earned” the right to look like a slob. On the other hand, if a bunch of women do something — wear dressy shorts or sandals or larger earrings of whatever — you are in the clear.

    • Maybe I am overly conservative, but unless you’re summering in the gym law practice group, I don’t think shorts are ever appropriate office attire.

      (Company picnics, etc are obviously a different story, although even then, I try to avoid shorts.)

      • I generally agree re: shorts, but I have friends in marketing and design companies who can wear the jacket and walking-short look. Having said that, I would never want to be the first at my company to test the waters!

      • anonx1000 :

        this! I’m not that conservative and I don’t work in a conservative office, but shorts are truly inappropriate in the legal workplace. (And I didn’t realize how much this bothered me until I saw it at two separate firms.)

    • Agree – I’d say look at how the people one level up dress, not your supervisors. People who have paid their dues can have a lot more leeway, especially in the summer than interns or associates.

  6. One thing that I think that I could have done better during my summers is to make sure that my hair was polished- I’d long been a sort of long-haired hippy girl who let her hair dry naturally every day, and I really didn’t understand how to do anything differently until just recently. Maybe it wouldn’t have made a difference,* but it can’t hurt to add to an overall polished look. Invest in a blow dryer and some smoothing product, and practice a little bit if it’s not been your style in the past to have very professional, well-kept hair.

    *When you don’t get the offer, even when it’s clearly because the economy is rapidly exploding all around you, you start to hyper-analyze EVERY DARN THING that you could have done differently. Oy!

    • Lyssa,

      I’m sorry that you did not get an offer. As someone 10 years out of law school, who has just found her dream job after 1 year of unemployment, I know that rejection is tough! See if you have any allies at that orgazinations (even secretaries of paralegals) who might give you the real scoop on what went down. Unfortunatlely, women are expected to keep a more polished apprearance than men, so you live and learn. I (and many of your fellow Corporetts wish you a job that is 10 times better!!

      • Oh, I’m good now; this was a few years back, right when things got really bad. It still burns a little bit, though! Thanks, and I’m glad to hear that you got your dream job, too!

  7. I’ve seen lots of interns on the subway wearing prom-like heels to work (satin, rhinestones, etc). For one, those are a total style clash with a professional outfit. Buy some basic leath pumps and flats. Also, even though you’re not in the office yet, commuting in heels is kind of a novice thing to do. Change into those babies in the office and save yourself a lot of discomfort! Furthermore, make sure your pants are hemmed for heels if you’re wearing heels (the pant leg should hit below your actual heel). If not, wear flats.

    • commuting in heels is a novice thing to do?? Totally disagree. I understand that some women insist on commuting in flats, flip flops, or tennis shoes, but that doesnt mean its the right thing to do. If you wouldnt want to be seen in the office dressed like that, why is it appropriate to be seen by the rest of the public dressed like that?

      • …because it beats being seen by the public with blisters, bad knees, and a twisted ankle?

        • ^Exactly.

          If your feet are unnecessarily swollen/blistered because you didn’t commute in activity-appropriate footwear (can I walk 5 miles in these shoes?), then you’ll spend the rest of the day in the office hobbling around as you go about your day. Not only is the constant foot pain distracting from the tasks at hand, you’ll look like you’re wearing shoes you don’t know how to walk well in.

          When I started my first full-time job I had some difficulty transitioning for 2″ heels to 2.5″ heels and I drove to work. Even if you’re just going to the washroom and the breakroom, all that walking for 8+ hrs will be in your heels.

      • lawtalkinggirl :

        Because it is totally appropriate for the general public to see me dressed head to toe in downhill ski gear (including helmet), yet not appropriate for me to dress like that at the office (I am not a ski patroller, unfortunately). Inappropriate for the office can still be appropriate for public display. ;-)

        • Well, my point was really two-fold: (1) its not a novice thing to do — its your choice, but the other one, i.e., commuting in heels, is not wrong or novice; and (2) you get dressed in the morning to look professional and put together. you loose that by wearing commuting shoes — and because you are commuting in public, people see you and judge you.

          • lawtalkinggirl :

            How unfun that people judge you based on the shoes you wear while commuting. Half the year I commute in snow boots, while the other half of the year I commute in sneakers (while riding my bicycle). I change my shoes (and sometimes my clothes) at the office. Your comments remind me that I am glad I live in a place where the social norms permit this flexibility.

          • Fortunately, my mama didn’t raise me to obsess over what random people on the subway think of my shoes .

          • Anonymous :

            Even if one is a supervisor or client?

          • I have also heard higher ups judge people for placing “professional” dress above common sense and wearing nice clothes on a day where they are going to be hauling dirty boxes or wearing pretty leather pumps in the snow. I once wore clothing that was too formal and heavy for a casual interview on a hot day, and I know that counted against me in the decision making (I got the job anyway, luckily). Supervisors value professionalism, but they also value people with enough common sense to dress down when appropriate.

    • Some of us buy work shoes that are comfortable enough to wear on our commutes. Some of us take care to make sure we have our shoes prepped (taps, rubber soles) to make them appropriate for commuting. Some of us regularly have functions after work that we’d like to look appropriate for. Some of us see the “suit with sneakers” look as very “Working Girl secretary,” and wouldn’t be caught dead that way. ‘Kay?

      • Jesus H Christ you just bring a bad attitude everywhere.

        • Some of us understand that work and commute are two different places and that context matters. If some of us ran into a business associate jogging with her dog in the park and she was sweaty and holding a bag of poo on her way to the trash can, some of us would not judge her for being unprofessional. Some of us wouldn’t be caught dead being this superior and judgmental of other people. Obviously, this last group of people does not include me :-P, since I judge ADS pretty harshly, not as a professional, but as a human being

          • YES THIS.

          • sneakers worn with anything other than gym clothes, in the gym, on the way to the gym, coming home from the gym, or exercising outside are a horrible, disgusting travesty and make you look like a bridge and tunnel nightmare

      • Attychick :

        Unfortunately I have to agree with this. The partners at my firm ride many of the same trains I do. Just like a Blackberry, attire follows me outside my office. I’ve also bumped into coworkers on weekends halfway across Manhattan. If you work at a firm, you can afford good flats. I also suggest a reasonably priced bag that can fit the good flats.

    • As was pointed out upthread, the problem with commuting in something flat and then changing into heels that your pants length is determined by the height of your heels, and if you wear pants that are too long for flats, they may get dirty.

  8. Always say “hello” to others in your office. I was especially put off by an intern we had last semester who seemed to ignore me. Although she was very gregarious, she seemed to have a problem with saying “hello” to me, even when I initiated. It was incredibly rude, and in the end, she did herself a huge disservice. I will always remember her as the intern who was too good to say hello to an attorney in the hallway.

    • Second this. Also, if you work in a more lax environment, spend the time to get to know staff – ask them about their careers and if they have any advice for you. Pick an appropriate time to do so – during break time, prior to or after lunch, coffee runs, etc. You’re supposed to spend this time learning about the career and the interpersonal stuff can’t be learned in school.

      • I think even in a formal office, an intern should take the time to get to know the staff. They know the office politics and culture, they can give you honest answers about things you can’t ask an attorney and they may be able to save you from potentially embarrassing situations (for instance, my assistant once tucked in the tag of my shirt before I was meeting with the head of the department – very helpful).

        At the very least, it’s always a good policy to say hello, smile, and say please and thank you to the staff.

      • MaggieLizer :

        I agree with BKDC’s and Ru’s comments. One girl my summer was quiet and reserved, but a very sweet and genuine person. She did not say hello to people in the coffee room/kitchen, probably because she was a bit shy, and that earned her a (totally undeserved) reputation among the attorneys as as the b—- of the summer class.

        Like Ru and EC said, it’s really important to be nice to the staff. I would add that you shouldn’t ask your secretary to do very much during your summer, unless of course the assigning attorney tells you to. However, some things are the Exclusive Territory of Secretaries (i.e. booking conference rooms, in my office at least) and they will get upset if you step on their toes. Ask your summer associate coordinator or your secretary if there is anything that the secretaries prefer to handle themselves.

      • I agree. Remember: some of those secretaries may have been there 20 years. They know more than you, and as an intern or junior professional, you can learn a lot from them.

        • Anonymous :

          One firm I summered atallowed us to take our assistants to lunch once during the summer. It’s a nice gesture even if you have to pay yourself, and it’s nice when you come back – they are always in the know!

      • Just to clarify, I mean everybody in the office (I don’t work in a law firm so I understand that the word “staff” means something different in every office). Speak to the professional staff, support staff, maintenance staff, IT staff, EVERYBODY. Most people can produce work but not that many are adept at handling people across all professional strata. Your internship is a great place to hone these skills. Not only do you learn a lot from different people, it shows that you have an interest in the organization.

        • counterpoint though- don’t BUG people around you who are busy. I have an intern near me now who keeps asking how I am doing, trying to be nice; it’s a week where my days are 6am to 10pm and I’m still 500 emails behind.. so do not have time to speak to an intern, period. he’s not in my department, just was seated near me. I would feel bad if I had time:) but just don’t. so interns, nothing personal, but people that give off a busy vibe might just be super swamped more than you can imagine. also he is taking loud personal calls and it’s driving me nuts (open cube place)- I am going to show him the ‘privacy rooms’ for that kind of thing- he clearly has no awareness that it is annoying to everyone and not normal.

    • another anon :

      Agree! Along those same lines, there was an intern at the court where I work who shut his door for the entire work day. After a few days of him doing this, everyone in the court knew. He developed a really poor reputation, and missed out on developing relationships with his coworkers. I’d say this was a poor choice, especially in a bad economy.

  9. I agree with pretty much all so far except that I don’t agree with the expensive accessory rule. If you have a Birkin and love it, I don’t see anything wrong with that. Although I wouldn’t carry it everywhere (but you may want to lock it up, if you can). Maybe I’m not a great judge because I wouldn’t know an expensive purse just by looking (even a Birkin – okay maybe I would, now that I read this blog…)

    I have seen tons of way to short skirts this summer (and the too messy, casual, weekend hairdo). Please stop it.

  10. Watching the interns on the metro is amusing. Based upon my observations this year, if your skirt pulls on, has no zipper, and can be worn as a top, please do not wear it to work.

  11. Listen to instructions carefully. It never ceases to amaze me how few people can actually do this.

    Beware of being too casual or friendly with superiors — even if someone is really friendly and close to your age, it doesn’t mean you should ever tell them how hung over you are, etc. (I had an intern who told me that almost every morning one summer!).

    Avoid using weird abbreviations that may have been useful in your law school outlines, but that no one uses and that sound jarring to the ear of someone not used to them (or at least to me ;)).

    As far as clothes, I think, in some offices, it can be as important not to overdress as it is not to underdress. If you work somewhere on the casual side, you will stick out if you wear pumps and a full suit every single day. Even just switching out the pumps for flats (or whatever) will help you fit in much better.

  12. Try to use your Professional Words. Keeping yourself from using slang at work can be difficult, but it’s hard to take someone seriously in an exchange like this:
    “I’d like you to research issue x.”
    “Awesome, I’ll get started right away.”
    “Can you please get it to me by tomorrow?”
    “That’s cool.”

    I might use slang in personal/chatty-type conversations with co-workers, but I try to keep it to a minimum when discussing business or talking with a boss.

    • My favorite one from a guy who works for me. When I ask him to do something he says, “No worries!”

      Uh, actually I wasn’t worried. Just do it.

      • That’s an Aussie expression. I picked it up from visiting the rellies (in-laws) and had to train myself back to “no problem or “sure thing.”

        Point taken, though.

      • That’s my standard response when someone says thank you! And I’m in my 40s.

        • I hate hate hate the “no worries” response. It annoys me that you think I was worried about the request. It’s your job. Just do it.

          • Yeah well, I’m the boss of pretty much everyone I work with on a regular basis, so they’re not in a position to tell me what to do.

          • but the advice is for the interns… a lot of this advice doesn’t apply if you are the boss of everyone and don’t care what other people think (which is an awesome place to be)

          • Maybe we need a companion thread on what is appropriate to fault someone for and what isn’t. “No worries” isn’t so cavalier that the person is being unprofessional. You shouldn’t impose your pet peeves on people.

          • anon for this one :

            It does not actually mean you don’t need to worry. it is a turn of phrase.

      • Funny, I actually see “no worries” as the equivalent of “no problem”. I don’t assume someone saying “no problem” thinks I would have one.

        • I agree – I don’t tend to say ‘no worries’ if someone’s asking me to do something, more if they’re apologising or asking for more than they should.
          Example:
          My editor ‘Hey Lily, can you get me that article by Saturday?’ Me ‘Sure, of course’
          My editor ‘Hey Lily, would you mind writing me some extra bits about perfect pastry (no joke, this happens)’ Me ‘No worries, I’ll get on that now’

          So it’s the ‘would you mind’ that tips no worries/ no problem into what I’d say, I think.

      • “No worries” is also a regional thing in the Pacific Northwest. Everyone and their mom says it here.

    • A former co-worker was once in court, and she was asking for a continuance in a case, and the judge set it for the day she had requested. She nodded and said, “Right on.”

      Then immediately realized what she had said and threw her hand over her mouth and left embarrassed. Oops!

      • I once called the magistrate I frequently appear before by her first name. HORRIFIED. I now seriously write her title at the top of whatever page I have in front of me so I never again make that mistake.

      • To glean a lesson out of this — ;) — I’d say another skill to learn is how to play it cool when you realize you misspoke and committed some sort of slip-up, granted what you said wasn’t completely wrong or insulting of course. Just like in a music performance, if you just plug right along it can smooth over a tense or awkward moment. Then you can redress your mistake later.

        Or you can pause, briefly apologize, correct yourself and then continue. The key is to “Keep Calm and Carry On,” as the recent phrase goes.

    • Oh man, in the 6 months I’ve been at my current job I have had some serious face-palm moments when I realize the slangy phrases that have come out of my mouth. For the most part it’s only been with some close co-workers and has just earned me some teasing for being the youngest person in the room, but I’m worried about similar brain malfunctions in front of superiors.

  13. Anonymouse :

    * be nice and respectful to EVERYONE, including staff. I had summers dismiss me when I was counsel rather than a partner. Not a good idea!
    * don’t give me a laundry list of everything you are already working on when I ask if you can help me on a matter. A simple “yes, I’d love to” or “no, I am so sorry but I am over-booked until next Tuesday” is more helpful.
    * introduce yourself! If you find yourself in the elevator with someone who clearly works at the same place, please say hello.

    • I have to note that your second point is what summers (and new attorneys) are consistently instructed TO do. “Don’t say you can’t do something/you’re too busy, instead tell them what you’re working on at the moment and ask them how they think you should prioritize, etc.” I’ve heard that advice so many times over the past few years, it’s hardly surprising if summers are starting to follow it.

      • Christine :

        The best advice I received on this as an intern, which carried over into the Junior Associate years, is to always answer the question, “Are you busy?” With, “Yes, but what can I help you with?”

        I should note that I’ve only worked on relatively small teams (12 attorneys or fewer), so everyone vaguely knew what matters the interns and Jr. Associates were working on. It might not work so well in a firm where 25 different attorneys come to the same intern with tasks and aren’t communicating with each other on what they’re assigning.

        Oh, also, your most expensive clothes are NOT your “best” clothes. Embellished boutique jeans, strappy Louboutins, and leggings of any sort are not work appropriate, even if they did cost you half your last financial aid check.

  14. I would also add that your underwear should never be visible. Bra straps count as underwear. So do camisole straps. So does your panty line.

    Also, don’t ever be afraid to ask for help. The interns I’ve known who have really messed things up have always been cocky ones. I’d rather explain something to you 3 times than have you make a mess I have to clean up.

  15. For amusing stories as lessons on what not to do, read http://dcinterns.blogspot.com/ For the most part it’s stories about interns on the Hill, but sometimes it’s summer associates or nonprofit/lobbying interns.

  16. Diana Barry :

    In the heyday of business casual, back in the day, I once wore a turquoise double-layer nylon cami with cardigan over it to work. I then walked to the water cooler in JUST THE CAMI. I smack my younger self over the head for that!

  17. Valleygirl :

    *not in legal – work in research npo sector….

    – Surprised no one has mentioned it yet – but read nice girls dont get the corner office.
    – avoid constantly having food or gum chewing going on at your desk. I had an research assistant who was vegan – so his snack of choice was raw lettuce/spinach – he kept a bag of loose leaves in his desk… and they began to smell moldy and his constant noshing really got on my nerves… a small snack is fine but esp. if you’re in a shared office space – keep the food in the kitchen or go for low smell/low annoyance factor stuff.
    – keep your work space tidy. You don’t need to go crazy – but you do want to come off as organized.
    – Even if coworkers seem friendly, recognize the “line.” For example, I didn’t need to hear about an intern’s “awesome halloween costume as the st. paulies girl and the party where she got sooo wasted.”
    – always have a pen and pad of paper with you – it will come in handy.

    • Agree with this. Especially the food part – eating is of course fine, but snacking continuously, especially on annoying food, is a big no. There is someone in my office right now who’s been eating sunflower seeds all day long every day this week. She nibbles at them to crack them with her teeth, and then eats it. It’s incredibly annoying (I can hear her from my desk).

      Gum chewing is also a no no for me in the office. No one wants to see or hear you chewing gum. If you want a quick piece after a meal to freshen your breath, fine, but it should be very discreet.

    • Honeycrisp :

      I think that discreet gum chewing could be a “know your office” issue. Judging by the way that the attorneys that I work with go through packs of Trident, I should consider buying stock in the company.

      • Gum chewing is also office culture at our otherwise pretty formal firm! I don’t do the open-mouth, loud-smacking kind of chewing, but otherwise I go for a stick any time I want.

    • Former 3L :

      Re that last one–I did that and it was helpful but by the end of the summer my supervisor was making fun of me for it. “Yeah, get out that little notebook!” It was in good fun, but, you know. I guess I drew attention to myself.

  18. I’d say two things that are related to this topic, but have more to do with manner than with dress: 1) be professi0nally appropriate with everyone you meet, and 2) also be aware of the role of the person to whom you are speaking you. I’m an attorney who happens to be located at my client site. Although I’m generally low key and friendly, I’m also highly skilled and professionally accomplished, and my client knows and appreciates that. But the client’s interns don’t seem to have any idea how to interact with me; they come into my office abruptly, spit things out without giving me the chance to stop what I am working on and focus on them, and get annoyed and huffy when I ask them questions to pin down what they need. This behavior would be problematic with anyone at any time, but I have not observed them acting this way with their direct supervisors, so I assume they have made some sort of assessment of my role in the office that is resulting in this behavior. What they don’t seem to have taken the time to understand is that: 1) that behavior is not appropriate for any reason (you should always be professionally polite to people in your office, from support staff on up) and 2) they have completely failed to grasp the office structure — I outrank many of their direct supervisors, and could make things quite uncomfortable for them, which I may still choose to do if they don’t quite acting like presumptuous brats in my office.

    I like most people, but I am puzzled by this behavior. I don’t feel like I should have to jump up and down and yell “Look! Shiny professional accolades!” to get interns to behave in a professional manner toward me.

    • Valleygirl :

      On that note…. one of the most helpful things I got as an intern back in the day was an organizational flowchart that outlined the hierarchy and office structure.

      • This. I interned for a very large company (not a law firm), and if I received a project or request from someone I wasn’t familiar with, I always looked them up in our internal company database to get a sense of where they were in the organization’s hierarchy. Extremely helpful.

    • But ladies….even if you don’t have an organizational flowchart, doesn’t every single person in the office deserve to be treated with respect and consideration? It shouldn’t matter what their role is or where they fit in the structure.

      • Yes, everyone deserves to be treated with respect, but in many companies (my own included) a “burning” request from a 3rd year associate is not the same priority as a “burning” request from a senior international partner. If I didn’t know either name as an intern and worked on the first request first because I received it first, and then the senior partner came looking for his request, guess which person you’ll be more concerned about pleasing?

  19. Our interns this year seem to be doing well, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed for them.

    My major piece of advice for an intern is to make sure you keep your workload manageable. This means saying no to projects if you’ve already got a full plate (and by full plate, I mean your assessment is that your workload can already fill this entire business day and the next entire business day). You want your work produce to be good and on time.

    But even as I write this, I’m torn – the economy is still really bad, and I know that even as a currently employed associate, I don’t feel like I can turn down work. Our interns are completely underwater, but I don’t know whether advising them to turn down work might be the wrong thing to do. Any thoughts?

    • In an ideal world, a summer associate coordinator would be in place to handle the work loads of the summers. However, if there is none and any partner can give out work as he/she fits to the summers, I think a summer should not turn down work unless totally swamped…and I mean totally (not just enough to fill the next couple of business days). (1) There will be other interns who will not turn down work, so the one who does may be seen (unfortunately) as not a hard worker, and (2) The person giving the work may not fully comprehend that the intern thinks he/she is really busy – and therefore, may take it personally – e.g. summer thought he/she was too good to do whatever, or was holding out to get staffed on a better deal, etc.

    • I think the key is for the summer to be clear about work load and deadlines.

      “I’d love to help you. Partner X has given me A to do by tomorrow and Partner Y has B for the following day. What time frame were you thinking of?”

    • AnonInfinity :

      When I was a summer associate, I used the following tactic if I felt like I had too much to do and a partner came by to give me work.

      Partner: Do you have time for a quick project?
      Me: I’ve got a couple of things due by Friday, but I can start on yours next Tuesday.

      So, I wouldn’t say no, but I wasn’t really saying that I could get on it right then. If Partner really wanted me to do the assignment and it wasn’t time sensitive, she’d say that was fine and give me the assignment. If she wanted me to do it and it was time sensitive, she would usually follow up and ask what I was working on and then go to that person and figure out what was more important. If she didn’t care who did the assignment, she’d just give it to another summer.

      I did get an offer, so I think my tactic wasn’t terribly offensive.

      • Yes, I think this is a very good tactic. Fortunately, I was blessed to have S.A. assingment coordinators when I was a summer. I think what I was trying to get at though is that if you have enough work for 9-5 for the next two days, you probably aren’t so swamped that you should be turning down work in this job market.

        • AnonInfinity :

          True that! I thought I’d give any lurking summer associates an idea for what they could say to a partner asking them to do something they felt they couldn’t get to right away. Plus I always had a problem figuring out what was true priority, and it was a good way to have a conversation with the partners about what matters were the most important priorities and what kinds of things could be put off a little longer.

          I basically never turned down a project (though I would give my disclaimer), even if I had to stay a little later or come in a little earlier, and I totally agree with you. Definitely only completely turn down a project in very dire circumstances in the current job market.

    • Up until the last week of my summer position, I accepted anything unless it was a “need right now” project and I was already working on something time-sensitive and wouldn’t be able to finish both by their respective deadlines.

      Most of the assignments I received were longer research issues that the attorneys just wanted at some point before a fall meeting or trial deadline, so I could take on several of those and set them aside when I received an urgent project. The last week was a good cutoff for me to stop taking on new assignments and finish those longer ones I’d built up.

      I could see this varying by firm or length of summer program, but that was my experience.

    • soulfusion :

      I am a summer assignment coordinator at my firm and my advice is work closely with the coordinator (if your firm has one). If you don’t know if you have time to take a new assignment, lay it all out and seek advice. If you don’t have a coordinator, rely on mentors or associates/partners you have developed a rapport with to help you weed through this. Learning how to balance multiple projects for multiple partners/associates/clients is one of the most challenging things about being a lawyer. Be open and honest about your workload because this is an opportunity to learn from those who have been doing it for a while. Most lawyers looooooove to impart their personal wisdom to the newbies.

      And my general advice is to start from a formal professional place but take cues from those with whom you are interacting. I received an extremely formal email turning down a casual coffee invitation. I read it as an overly nervous and intimidated summer who needs to relax a bit. I think in this economic climate (of the last couple of years) I see more summers erring on the side of overly formal, take every project than on the extremely relaxed, do-nothing of several years ago. Find a balance that fits with the firm’s culture, it takes observation and time but it will ultimately help you be perceived as a better fit than if you are too far off the scale in terms of overly formal or overly casual and will help when it comes time for practice groups to pick who they want to ultimately work with (people they click with AND do good work).

    • I don’t know the answer to that. At my last summer of law school, there were 2 interns (and 2 halves, for a summer total of 4), and my office was kind of around the corner from the others- the coordinator sent out a note at the beginning that said something like “Don’t forget to give work to Lyssa just because her office is further back.” So, NO ONE did- everyone came to me first, so I was constantly swamped, while the other girl was floating along with one or two projects at a time. I tried to manage it as best I could, worked late, etc, because I didn’t want to turn down anything, and I refused to allow anything to be turned in later than it was requested by or ask for an extension.

      Guess who got the one offer the firm wound up making? The other girl.

      (If you happen to be managing summers, make sure that there’s some sort of master list of projects, so that they can stay about equal.)

    • At my office it is never acceptable to turn down work, no matter how busy you are, and no matter who you are (intern or senior manager). So it’s really an office-specific piece of advice.

  20. not an intern :

    A threadjack here but I can’t seem to wait for the weekend:
    I work part-time, with a contractor covering a portion of what would otherwise be my workload. This has been the case for some time, per my arrangement with management, and will continue until either party decides it no longer works. In other words, it does not change from week to week or month to month. It works well for everyone because the contractor does a good job and is inexpensive so we can actually get more work done through this arrangement than I could handle on my own. The problem–I have a colleague who is competitive with me who draws attention to this situation every week during our team meeting, i.e., (in a loud voice, accompanied by throat clearing and false nonchalant manner) “SO is contractor still covering your research duties”? I guess he does it as a form of power trip, to point out that I’m not full-time. I can’t really think of any other reason why he has to question what is otherwise well understood by everybody. So how would you tackle this? Should I in the meeting respond with a friendly, “everyone knows that so why do you ask every week?” or should I talk to him privately? I’m sure he will deny that it is anything other than an innocent question.

    • girl in the stix :

      you could always give the ‘look’ (laser eyes) and ask “Point being?”

    • I might just go with “Of course, why do you ask” or just “Yes” rather abruptly.

      I actually think asking “Why do you ask?” and then staring him down for a minute might help…he’ll feel silly since there really isn’t any valid reason probably for WHY he asks!

    • I would say something like: “yes, just like last week and the week before that, and for the foreseeable future” in as friendly a manner as possible and with a smile. Then, if he asks again next week, specifically ask why he keeps asking.

      I hope this doesn’t sound harsh, though, but I might question a little bit whether he’s representing a generalized feeling around the office. Chances are good that he’s just being a lone jerk, and I believe you when you say that this is efficient, but maybe (maybe!) it needs to be more clear to your co-workers why things are being done this way. (might not be your job so much as your supervisor’s to make this clear, but maybe you need to encourage supervisor to address it.) Resentment can build in an office when people think that other people are getting a better deal, which really harms everyone.

      • I think I was writing my suggestions below at the same time as Lyssa, so I didn’t see this response. Lyssa is right that resentment builds when people think others are getting a better deal, and it certainly sounds like that’s at least his deal. Is it the thought of others in the office? It might be worth having a couple of private meetings with colleagues you trust to shoot straight.

    • Perhaps a “we (even if it’s just you) notice that you’ve asked that question every week. Is there a reason for your question? Surely if that changes, Ms. Boss will see fit to inform you.” and then move right on to the important things in the meeting. Or maybe when he asks that the next time, you can give a big sigh, turn to Ms. Boss and say, “Ms. Boss, since Colleague regularly asks about this, would you be willing to agree to let Colleague know should our long-standing work arrangement change so he won’t have to fret about it each week?” I think after it’s been pointed out to the staff at the meeting, he’d look foolish to bring it up again. A third option would be to mention before the meeting starts well within the earshot of others, “Just an FYI Colleague, contractor Susie is still working with us.” Others might chuckle (surely they’ve noticed, right?) and then if he asks about it in the meeting, you can state that you informed him of this before the meeting – was there something he didn’t understand or that he thought had changed since you began the meeting?

      Sounds like he’s resentful that you are equals though he perceives he works more than you (and maybe he does). But that’s really not any of his business, as you point out. I would suggest against going to him privately. I don’t want him to think he’s gotten to you. It sounds like you’ve gotten to him! Good luck. Please let us know how it goes.

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