Internship etiquette: Mastering Communication and issue escalation with employers

May 9, 2024
6 mins
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It’s no secret that internships are hard to come by, with less than a quarter of students and recent graduates completing them in 2021. With the expansion of virtual internships and experiential learning opportunities, it’s becoming easier to snag one of these coveted spots. 

But once you land an internship, navigating the unwritten rules of the professional environment becomes the next hurdle. Beyond the technical skills relevant to your field, mastering the art of internship etiquette—how to communicate effectively with colleagues, when and how to escalate issues, and how to leave a lasting positive impression—becomes crucial. 

These skills are often the unsung heroes of early career development, pivotal in transitioning from an academic setting to a professional one. And that’s exactly what this article is going to explore.


Understanding internship etiquette

Internships serve as your entry into the professional realm, teaching you to blend professionalism with personal flair—a combo critical for shaping your career. Making a strong first impression is key, as it's challenging to rebound from a poor one. So what do you need to make a great first impression? 

  • Professional attire: Your appearance, whether in-person or online, speaks volumes about your professionalism. It's about finding a balance between personal style and workplace dress code.
  • Effective communication: Clear, concise speaking combined with active listening and thoughtful responses enhances both your internship experience and workplace relationships.
  • Good conduct: Punctuality, reliability, respectfulness, initiative, and teamwork showcase your professionalism and are fundamental for a successful internship and future career opportunities.

Combined, these behaviors are essential not only for a successful internship but also for laying the groundwork for future professional opportunities.

Core communication strategies for interns

Stepping into your internship can feel a bit like learning a new language—one where you need to quickly learn and develop a professional tone that lets you convey your ideas clearly. But on top of that, you have to be able to listen and respond appropriately. 

So how do you do that? Let's break down these core principles to ensure you're not just heard but also understood and respected.

  • Clarity and conciseness: Getting straight to the point is essential. Before sending an email or speaking up in meetings, consider simplifying your message without omitting key details. Aim for directness without unnecessary complexity.
  • Professional tone: The way you convey your message is as crucial as the content. Striking a balance between professional respect and your unique personality is key. Utilize resources, like social media tips from professionals, to refine a tone that’s both authentic and appropriate.
  • Active listening: Truly engaging with others’ words is a foundational skill. Show you’re listening by maintaining eye contact, nodding, and offering verbal acknowledgments. Responding thoughtfully proves you’ve understood their viewpoint.

Social media can be a surprisingly rich resource for tips on professional communication. For instance, creators like Loe Haley on platforms like Instagram and TikTok offer insights into achieving a professional tone while keeping your personality intact. Though some suggestions might seem unconventional, they can be incredibly helpful in navigating the nuances of professional internship etiquette.

Written communication in a professional environment

Communication isn’t just talking to someone face-to-face. In fact, written communication is arguably more important because it provides a literal paper trail of what you said. Navigating written communication is especially pivotal in remote and hybrid internships, where emails, Slack, Google Meet, and Zoom form the core of communication. Here's how to ensure your communication is spot-on.


  • Keep subject lines clear and direct.
  • Start with a formal greeting and end with a professional sign-off.
  • Get to the point with your messages. 

Slack and similar platforms

  • Respond promptly to show that you respect your team's time.
  • Stay professional, but adjust your tone to match the company culture.
  • Use emojis as needed to reflect the team's vibe.

Google Meet/Zoom

  • Mind your backdrop and attire, keeping them work-appropriate.
  • Actively participate and maintain professionalism throughout the call.

Just remember that each platform has its norms. Observe and adapt to how your teammates communicate, and don’t be afraid to ask for clarification. 

Approaching feedback and criticism constructively

Feedback and criticism, while occasionally daunting, are invaluable for professional growth, especially in the formative stages of your career. Internships provide a unique platform for learning and development, where feedback is not just inevitable but essential. 

Here’s how to approach feedback constructively and use it as a catalyst for professional development.

  • Approach it with an open mind, understanding that it’s meant to guide you, not diminish your efforts. 
  • Separate the feedback on your work from your personal value—it’s about the task or behavior, not about you as a person.
  • Don’t hesitate to ask for clarification or specific examples.
  • Consider the points raised and how they align with your perception of your work.
  • Set tangible goals for improvement based on feedback received.
  • Proactively seek out feedback by asking for regular reviews of your work.
  • Always thank those who provide feedback, regardless of the nature of their criticism. 

Navigating issue escalation in a professional manner

Challenges are inevitable in any setting, but not every problem you encounter needs to be escalated. Understanding when and how to escalate issues in the workplace is key to resolving challenges effectively while maintaining professional integrity.

The first step is knowing whether it’s:

A solvable challenge. An issue within your power or expertise to resolve through direct communication, compromise, and collaborative problem-solving between the parties involved. Examples include disagreements over work responsibilities, scheduling conflicts, or minor process improvements.


An issue requiring escalation. These are beyond your capacity to solve due to their complexity, scale, or risk. They could include ethical concerns, harassment, significant project roadblocks, or any problem that poses a risk to the company or its employees.

Once you determine that, we recommend following these escalation steps:

  1. Attempt resolution: Make a genuine effort to solve the issue, consulting colleagues if necessary. If you have an assigned mentor, they can help advise you on the escalation process or provide insights based on their experience.
  2. Document everything: Compile relevant information and documentation on the issue and your attempts to solve it.
  3. Choose the right channel: Understand who to escalate the issue to, whether it's a supervisor, department head, or HR, following the organization's hierarchy and policies. Remember, HR can help you resolve conflicts, ethical issues, or significant challenges while ensuring confidentiality.
  4. Communicate clearly: Present the issue factually and objectively, avoiding emotional language. Suggest potential solutions if possible.
  5. Stay engaged: Follow up on the escalation and offer your support in finding a resolution.

Building professional relationships

Internships offer a prime opportunity not just for gaining industry experience, but also for building a professional network that supports your career long-term. Networking during internships opens doors to job opportunities, offers access to mentorship, and provides insights that extend beyond the internship itself. 

Building genuine, mutually beneficial relationships and actively participating in workplace activities are key strategies for establishing these connections. To maintain these valuable connections post-internship you should:

  • Regularly reach out through LinkedIn or similar platforms to keep the dialogue alive.
  • Inform your network about your career achievements or new skills, inviting ongoing engagement.
  • Openly ask for guidance to deepen connections and gain valuable insights.
  • Share relevant information or opportunities to show your commitment to the relationship's value.

Enhancing your internship experience with Riipen

If you’re having trouble finding internship opportunities in your area or just want to expand your opportunities, Riipen could be the solution you are looking for. The platform connects students and recent grads with over 30,000 employers worldwide, so they can test their skills, build their networks, and get real work experience.

Through Riipen, students engage directly with companies and organizations, working on live projects that allow them to practice and refine their professional communication, problem-solving, and etiquette. This hands-on experience is invaluable, providing a realistic glimpse into the professional world.

After completing a project, the feedback you receive from your project partners is gold. It offers clear insights into your strengths and identifies areas for improvement, serving as a critical tool for your professional development.


Jump ahead:

Key takeaways

  • Mastering professional etiquette is essential for making a strong first impression in internships. 
  • Clarity, conciseness, and maintaining a professional tone while incorporating personal flair are key when it comes to communication.
  • Understanding when and how to escalate issues is key to maintaining professional integrity and effectively resolving challenges in the workplace.

Signing up for Riipen is straightforward and, importantly, free for students and recent graduates. To begin this enriching journey, simply visit Riipen, explore projects that resonate with your professional goals, and sign up. It's your step towards blending academic learning with practical professional exposure.

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