A smiling mentor assisting a new intern at a computer in a bright, modern office setting.

Are you getting ready for the first day of your internship? First of all, congrats! This exciting milestone marks the beginning of a worthwhile and rewarding experience that’ll stick with you for years to come. 

Now, you’re probably wondering how to prepare. What should you wear? How should you act? Most importantly, will food be provided, or should you pack lunch to make sure you don’t go hungry? 

We’ll answer all of these pressing questions, outline what you should expect on the first day, and share some guidelines to ensure that you kick off your internship on a positive note. 

The importance of making a good first impression as an intern

As you already know, an internship is a valuable opportunity to gain exposure in the career field you’re interested in pursuing. Making a good impression on your first day in the program will help you reap your internship’s full benefits, including skill advancement, hands-on experience, and professional connections. 

But preparing for your first day as an intern is about more than just making a good impression; it’s also about setting yourself up for a great experience. A basic understanding of what to expect and how to conduct yourself will make you feel more confident and poised, putting you in a frame of mind to perform your best. A little preparation goes a long way.

What to expect on the first day of an internship

Internships can be very different from one to the next. If you’re part of a formal internship program with a large company, the experience will likely be highly structured from start to finish. If it’s a smaller company and you’re one of a handful of interns (or the only intern), expect less structure and more flexibility. 

Regardless of the type of internship you’re participating in, there are a few things that will almost certainly happen on your first day. 


It’s common to kick off the first day of an internship program with an orientation meeting, either amongst all the interns, with the full department you’re working with, or both. You’ll learn more about the activities you’ll participate in and the expectations for your time with the company. 


You’ll be shown around, assigned a workspace, and provided with any devices you’ll be using during the program, such as a computer or tablet. You may also be given login credentials for some of the company’s technology. 


Though lunch probably won’t be included every day on the job, it’s standard practice for the company to plan something for the midday meal on its interns’ first day. You might go out to lunch as a group with the other interns, have a one-on-one meal with a senior team member, or eat food that’s provided in the office break room. 


A big part of your intern experience will be learning from your full-time colleagues as they do their jobs. On your first day, you’ll probably spend some of the time shadowing one or more team members, which will help you get a feel for the company’s workflows.

Need help getting an internship? Here are our top tips for finding an internship that will amplify your resume!

Tips for your first day as an intern

As your first-day approaches, follow these tips to make the most of it. 

1. Outline your goals

What are you hoping to gain by participating in this internship? Before you show up for your first day on the job, put these goals into writing. For example, you might hope to gain clarity on your career path, learn skills that will boost your resume, or make connections to help you land a job. 

Having clear objectives for your internship will help you ask the right questions and connect with the right people to ensure your time is well spent. It’ll also help with the next tip on our list…

2. Prepare your ‘elevator pitch’

This is a term you’ll hear a lot in the professional world. It’s a short statement that summarizes who you are and might include things like your background, education, goals, and when you’re more established in the workforce, prior job experience, and achievements.

You’ll be introducing yourself a lot in the coming weeks; having an elevator pitch helps those introductions go smoothly and helps you present yourself in a polished manner. It also aids your colleagues by letting them know what it is you’re hoping to achieve so that they can provide you with more targeted assignments and feedback. 

3. Dress professionally

Appropriate attire for an internship will vary a lot depending on where you’re interning. A suit and tie might be the norm if it’s a financial institution. Carhartt pants and a T-shirt might fit the bill if it’s a construction company. 

Most workplaces will fall somewhere in between these two ends of the spectrum. If this is the case, an outfit like khakis, a nice button-down shirt for men, a skirt or pants, and a blouse for women will be appropriate. 

Your best bet, however, is to ask! It’s perfectly acceptable to contact the person you’ve been communicating with about the internship to ask what the dress code is. It’s much better to get a forthright answer and show up looking professional than to take a guess and spend your first day feeling uncomfortable because of what you’re wearing. 

4. Pack a light lunch

As discussed, lunch will probably be part of your day one agenda. Just in case it’s not, though, it’s a good idea to bring something along to munch on. Something light that fits inconspicuously in your bag, like a sandwich, is a safe bet. 

5. Be confident

Confidence is an asset in any line of work. Not only does being confident help you interact effectively with others, but it also enables you to try new things without being held back by the fear of failure–an essential aspect of getting the most from your internship. 

As you meet your new team members, smile and offer a firm handshake. Be enthusiastic and friendly when speaking, and listen actively when others are talking, asking pertinent questions when appropriate. 

6. Don’t be overconfident 

There’s a fine line between confidence and cockiness. One communicates positivity and leadership, while the other conveys a sense of self-importance that’s off-putting to others. Remember, you’re here to learn. 

Don’t interrupt when others are speaking, and defer to your more senior teammates during meetings and other interactions. Acknowledge your weaknesses and areas where you have room to learn and grow. Focus on being useful and don’t act like a task is beneath you when given an assignment. 

7. Get to know your fellow interns

You’re probably thinking a lot about making connections with managers and other seasoned members of the team who could be good to know in the future. But don’t forget to make another set of important connections: those with your fellow interns. 

One thing you’ll come to find out is that the professional world is a small one, especially in certain fields. It’s common to cross paths with people from your past many years into the future. An intern you’re currently sitting next to could refer you for the opportunity of a lifetime ten years from now. So, it pays to build meaningful relationships with people in positions of power and the peers who will be climbing the professional ladder alongside you. 

8. Ask questions

One of the biggest perks about being an intern is that it’s assumed you don’t know a whole lot about the job, the field, or work life in general. Thus, no one will think badly of you for asking many questions. That’s what you’re there to do. Take full advantage of the opportunity by learning about not only the functions of the job but also what a career in this company and industry might be like. 

Here are some things you can ask about to gain useful insights:

  • Technical aspects of the job, like how to operate tools or navigate software
  • Logistical aspects of the job, like how different departments work together or how the product makes it to consumers
  • Professional practices, like how to ask for feedback from your boss or interact with clients
  • Career advice, like what entry-level jobs you should look into after college
  • Colleagues’ career paths, like how they chose this field or ended up in their role

9. Take notes

Make sure none of the knowledge you’re gaining slips through the cracks by taking notes. On your first day, jot down the names and job titles of the people you meet and any other important information like processes you learn or upcoming events on the calendar. You can also note things you want to learn more about since you may not have enough time for lengthy instruction during your first couple of days on the job. 

Taking notes is a great practice to continue throughout your internship because it will help you track your progress. As the weeks pass, write down tasks you complete and any accomplishments you make. This detailed record will save you a lot of time when you add the internship to your resume later. 

10. Take a break

Your first day as an intern will probably be a bit of a whirlwind, and it’s likely this is the first time you’ve had to be “on” for eight hours in a professional setting. It can be overwhelming! It’s okay–and even advised–to step away for a few minutes during the day to get your bearings. 

Take a short walk with another intern to get coffee, do a lap around the office to grab a snack from the vending machine, or step outside for a few breaths of fresh air. Breaks are key to keeping your energy level high and your attention strong, both of which you’ll want to do on this big day. 

Remember: it may feel intimidating, but everyone you meet during the first day of your internship has been in a similar position at some point in their career. Going into the experience with an open mind and an enthusiastic attitude will help you seize the opportunity and make it a stepping stone to the start of a fulfilling career.

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Pete Newsome is the founder of zengig, which he created after more than two decades in staffing and recruiting. He’s also President of 4 Corner Resources, the Forbes America's Best Staffing and Recruiting Firm he founded in 2005, and is a member of the American Staffing Association and TechServe Alliance. In addition to his passion for staffing, Pete is now committed to zengig becoming the most comprehensive source of expert advice, tools, and resources for career growth and happiness. When he’s not in the office or spending time with his family of six, you can find Pete sharing his career knowledge and expertise through public speaking, writing, and as the host of the Finding Career Zen & Hire Calling podcasts. Connect with Pete on LinkedIn