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SMILE YOUR WAY TO THE TOP

WASHINGTON - The best interns master just a few simple habits. These are outlined by Francine Blume, who works in the American University Career Center:

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By now, you know most of the "shoulds" of maximizing your internship. Be positive, be willing, take initiative! You know not to text, get on Facebook or play Sudoku on the computer. You know you're supposed to network, to have work products for your portfolio when you leave and to get a nice letter of reference. - You know all this and so do thousands of your closest friends. So what are the little extras that not only make you memorable, they can make you even more appreciated? - Here are three simple habits to develop and practice:

Be nice.

It seems simple, but think about it. You know the folks that shake your hand and say "hello," but are scanning the room looking for someone more important? Don't be like that.

Be gracious and respectful to all. Respect begets respect. Say "hello" or at least smile to the people in your building. Do you know the receptionist's name? Have you had a kind word for that person in the office that most people don't really talk to? Did you say "good morning" to the cleaning crew?

It really takes very little effort to smile, give eye contact and demonstrate a little interest in others. Don't let your rush to get coffee or the sticky humidity or that deadline take away from brightening someone's day.

Besides, you never know when you'll see these folks again and in what capacity.

I know one former intern who had the pleasure of interviewing and rejecting a fellow intern from years in the past who had never had the time of day for her. I know a receptionist who, when the company was hiring, went to the trouble of putting in a good word for a former intern because he had always been kind.

Say "sorry."

It's true, you may actually make a mistake at some point when you're on your internship.

Don't beat yourself up. Take a breath, tell your supervisor and whoever else needs to know, apologize and immediately ask what you can do to make it better.

As a manager, I much prefer someone to tell me when there's a problem rather than hiding it. I work with incredibly talented people. They don't usually make mistakes so when it happens, we all pitch in and make it right.

As for you, you're an intern. This is actually the time when you can make public mistakes. It's part of your job description!

Listen.

There are cultural and gender issues here, but by and large, Americans aren't that comfortable with silence. That's okay, we just have to be aware of it and be purposeful when listening.

Listen and remember little things about your colleagues. When getting feedback, listen, even if you don't agree with it. You'll either learn something about your skills, learn how you're being perceived, or understand a bit more about human nature.

Listen to others in meetings. What do they have to say? What does it really mean? What's their perspective?

It isn't necessarily like school, where he who shouts the loudest and most often with the biggest words may be seen as the brightest. In the work world, it's the quality of the contribution.

Listen, learn and develop your own ideas. Then when you do talk, reference what you heard and show how smart you really are.

These three little things put the polish on your professional image. They're the intangibles that separate you from the thousands of others, from those who seem self-absorbed, the interns you don't want to be. Be the kind of professional you'd like to see more of.

Francine Blume joined the American University Career Center in August 1998. She is the director of Experiential Education.

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