A survival guide for our summer interns

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Last week, our annual batch of summer interns arrived at TIME. This I know because an e-mail was sent out yesterday announcing their arrival. But because I’m working from home until I expel a small person from my womb, the most I know about this year’s group may be their three-line e-mailed bios.

That’s a shame. I love interns. I so remember that mixture of thrill and accomplishment and bagel-choking fear that accompanied each of my internships. I think fondly of the time the senior reporter at Ad Age threw a phone at me. And of the hours I spent sorting through letters from crazy people at Rolling Stone. Ah. Good times.

During my seven years at TIME, I’ve watched summer interns come and go, some undoubtedly enriched by the experience, others just as undoubtedly disappointed. I think this is true at any workplace. I see a lot of advice out there from bloggers and career advisers on how to handle summer internships, but seeing as my own limited knowledge is limited further to my own employer, I thought I’d spew some of that entirely unsolicited advice here.

1. Aim high. You’re at TIME magazine, for crying out loud; if you wanted to spend the summer being a secretary, you could have worked in dad’s back office. Set goals: 10 bylined stories for Time.com! A pitch every week for the Arts section! Become the go-to kid for reporting international news Briefings! Listen, there’ll be plenty of grunt work; get that done, efficiently and professionally, then focus on the real reason you’re here.

2. Attend every meeting. Every. Single. One. It’s the best way to learn how a magazine works; how more seasoned journalists pitch stories; which editor likes what. Meetings are an incomparable way for interns to gauge the power structure, the personalities of your seniors, the quirks of the unique work culture. Oh, a tip: don’t presume to sit at the big table at every morning meeting. When in doubt about proper meeting etiquette, take cues from the old hands around you.

3. Make friends with staffers. If you’re an intern at TIME, it’s a fair assumption that you know the magazine cold. You’ve followed the shenanigans at Swampland or cried over Nancy Gibbs‘ essays or spent the last year Google-stalking Joel Stein. And now, here you are, in their midst. Make a list of everyone you’re dying to meet and go knock on their doors; if they’re not in their offices, pop them an e-mailed hello. Walk around the new Time.com newsroom sharing your care package of mom-made Snickerdoodles. Meet your idols, but don’t discriminate: the cool young Time.com reporter might be the one to tip you off about a job opening next year.

4. Leave an impression. This is it, folks. The first summer of the rest of your lives. Sure, landing this internship was half the battle, and your resumé will forever reflect that victory. But what you do this summer will determine if you’re one of the many faceless, nameless young folks scuttling around the cafeteria or if you become “that intern”—the one who makes Ratu, the chief of reporters, nod in approval, the one whom the editors remember when you call them later about jobs. How do you leave an impression? By working your tail off, pitching—and delivering—smart stories, showing up for everything. And don’t forget to be your clever, charming self.

5. Git over yourself. Some of you will come in with rock-star, editor-of-the-college-newspaper egos; others of you still can’t believe you’re here, you, little ol’ you from Dubuque, right here in the house of Luce. Everybody, take a pill. An internship at TIME—or anywhere else, for that matter—is what it is: an opportunity. You were good enough to get here. Now it’s time to experience. Be a sponge. Take every assignment. Say hello to everyone. Attend every event. Who cares if you look like an ass? This is not the time to play it cool.

I wish I could say I followed all these steps to establish my own dazzling, sky-rocketing career. But my own failures could be your gain: I screwed up so you don’t have to. I fully expect to be working for you in 2010. So hang in there, work hard, and have a fantastic summer.