Don’t Make These 10 Internship Mistakes
Internships can be incredible learning experiences, but they can also harm your reputation if you don’t conduct yourself professionally during them. Here are the top 10 mistakes interns make, and how they can avoid them:
1. Scoffing at boring or menial tasks. You might wonder what being good at photocopying has to do with your ability to do higher-level work. But if you excel at the boring tasks and do them cheerfully, you may be given more interesting assignments. That’s because when you start as an intern, you typically haven’t proven yourself in the work world. If you do a great job on the boring work, show that you pay attention to detail, follow instructions, and care about quality, you’re more likely to be trusted with more interesting work. So it’s important to go into the job determined to do every task well, no matter how menial.
2. Dressing inappropriately. If you look like you’re dressing for a class rather than a job, you’ll signal that you don’t take your job seriously. So pay attention to how higher-ups in your office dress and mirror that level of formality. Flip flops, exposed midriffs, and visible bra straps generally aren’t appropriate for the office.
3. Ignoring the office culture. Office culture is the invisible force that tells you “how things are done around here.” You can pick up on it by observing how others in the office behave. For instance, if people lower their voices when taking phone calls or avoid walking through the halls on the phone, do the same. If they’re precisely on time for meetings, you should be too. While these things may sound small, they’ll help you come across as someone who fits into a professional setting.
4. Being too casual. Even informal workplaces tend to be more formal than a campus atmosphere, and interns need to adapt. That means don’t put your feet up on your desk, use text-speak in emails, swear, or use cavalier phrases like “my bad” when you realize you made a mistake.
5. Segregating yourself with the other interns. It might be tempting to hang out with your peer group, but make sure that you get to know other employees too, including those who are older. More experienced co-workers are generally better positioned to give you career advice, help you connect to a future job, and provide strong references.
6. Not asking for feedback. If your manager doesn’t offer up much feedback, ask how you’re doing and what you could do better. And welcome critical or corrective feedback; that’s how you’ll learn and get better at what you do.
7. Neglecting to thank people who help you. If a co-worker takes the time to help you learn something, make sure you offer a sincere thank you. People who feel appreciated are more likely to go out of their way to help you again.
8. Not paying attention when something doesn’t involve you. Part of the value of an internship is that you can absorb a ton of information about how things work in your field, even things beyond the scope of your immediate work. So pay attention even when something isn’t directly relevant to your work—like during meetings that would otherwise be boring.
9. Talking more than listening. You might think that you have plenty of answers, but before you offer up new ways of doing things, soak up as much information as you can about how the organization works and why things are done the way they’re done.
10. Not keeping in touch once your internship ends. Once you’re back at school or in another job, make sure that you stay in touch with the manager and co-workers from this internship. The occasional email about what you’re up to can maintain the relationship and build professional relationships that can help you for years to come.
7 “Must Do’s” Before Your Internship Ends
Fall internships are wrapping up soon. You’re probably thinking about final exams or preparing to enter the “real world” and start a full-time career. For new grads with little work experience in their field, internships can be a huge advantage to helping land your first entry-level job. But just because you completed your internship doesn’t mean you should just say your goodbyes and write the company off.
Here are seven things you need to do before exiting your internship.
1. Say Thank You
As soon as you can, send personalized emails or notes to everyone you had the chance to work with over the course of your internship to emphasize your gratitude for the opportunity and experience gained. Failing to properly say your thank you’s before exiting your internship will make you seem ungrateful.
2. Get Feedback
Ask those you worked closely with for constructive criticism on your internship performance. This will help know what skills you need to improve upon for future jobs.
3. Update Your Resume and Portfolio
Add your internships to your resume and include what your responsibilities were. Also, if you have any projects you worked on that you can include in your portfolio, ask for some copies of those documents before exiting your internship.
4. Stay in Touch
Connect with people you worked with on LinkedIn and keep in touch with them! Having strong connections within your field can help you land a job. Also, you can ask if they would be willing to serve as references during your job search and/or provide you a recommendation. Don’t wait too long after exiting your internship to get back in touch.
5. Leave the Door Open for Future Work
If the company doesn’t have full-time openings right now or if you are heading back to school and aren’t available to work, still express your interest in having a future with the company. You never know when they’ll have an opening, and if you’re still in school, you’ll be on the job market before you know it.
6. Don’t Burn Bridges
Even if you don’t have any interest in working for the company in the future, still be courteous and professional when making your exit. You never know when your paths may cross with your internship co-workers again, so don’t leave a bad impression. Whether you want to work for the company or not, take advantage of all the new contacts you’ve made within your field.
7. Reflect on the Experience
Internships teach you a lot about what you like and what you don’t like when it comes to your career. If you didn’t like the internship, was it the company culture that turned you off or the job tasks? What have you learned about your field and what would you still like to learn? Has this internship changed your ultimate career goals? Keep in mind that some internships are not always a true reflection of what you would actually be doing in your career. If you spent most of your time fetching coffee and making copies, look for another internship opportunity that will give you a better idea of what a job in your field really looks like.
Turn Your Internship Into Your Job
Every summer New Yorkers hear a steady thwack of rubber slapping pavement as flip-flop-wearing interns pour out of subways and into offices across the city. There, the very best ones change into real shoes, put their heads down and land a real full-time job offer three months later.
Internships are a great opportunity to test out a company and determine whether you’d want to work there full-time. The most successful interns view their short-term opportunities as more than just a summer gig. “They treat an internship as a 10- to 12-week job interview,” says Alex Taylor, a senior vice president and human resources manager at Bank of America.
How do you pull that off? First, act the part. Adhere to your company’s dress code and office hours. Model your wardrobe after those of senior-level colleagues. Never wear flip-flops, show cleavage or wear anything that’s ripped or torn. Treat everyone you meet with respect and professionalism, and don’t badmouth co-workers. Leave your personal life at home.
Within the first week of starting your internship, make an appointment with your manager to establish goals. Discuss projects you’d like to tackle and specific skills you hope to gain over the summer. Always have a positive attitude about the work, however menial it may seem. “Not every task you’re going to do is something you’ll enjoy, but have the attitude that these are building blocks to your career,” says Tom Musbach, a former producer at Yahoo. “Once you show you can be trusted with small tasks, managers will give you more responsibility.”
Don’t be shy about asking questions, especially if you need clarification on an assignment. Carry a notebook with you at all times. “While it’s important to treat your internship as a job interview, it’s also important to make it a learning experience coupled with self-exploration,” says Holly Stroupe Vestal, a human resources consultant for Bank of America’s Banking Center Channel, who was hired full time after her own internship. “Don’t be afraid to ask questions. It’s a great way to show your level of engagement and connect the dots. It also will help you obtain a rounded, realistic preview of a prospective employer and job, so you can make an educated decision about your career options down the road.”
Be assertive. Don’t overextend yourself, but raise your hand when a manager asks for help. Don’t just stick to your department, either; volunteer to work in other areas of the company so you get an overview of as many as possible. Prove that you can meet the responsibilities of holding a full-time job.
To avoid spinning your wheels and wasting time, make sure you’re on the same page as your manager. After you’ve met with him or her to discuss a particular project, take the time to carefully think through the problem before racing ahead on the work. “Then go back to your manager the following morning and check your understanding of the challenge and how to best approach it,” says Chris Bierly, the head of North American associate consultant recruiting at Bain & Co. “It’s important to get out of the blocks fast, but first you want to make sure you’re holding the baton.”
Use your internship as an opportunity to network with senior leaders and your fellow interns. They are all vital contacts who can serve as references, recommend you for a job, and alert you to positions at other companies. Most businesses host intern events throughout the summer to encourage networking. Attend all of them. If the company has a softball team, join it. Talk to your colleagues to find out all you can about the company and what they like and don’t like about working there.
Throughout the summer, keep a record of the new skills you’ve acquired and the assignments you’ve completed. “They’ll be great building blocks for your résumé,” says Musbach. Save any complimentary e-mails or notes, too, to get ideas for potential references.
Before the summer ends, get your colleagues’ contact information and send thank-you notes. Network with them throughout the year by sending casual e-mails asking them about their work. If you performed well over the summer, they’ll think of you when a job opens up. As Chris Bierly observes, “Applying for a job is a mutual courtship.”
What NOT To Do During Your Summer Internship (plus stories of the worst interns!)
You have landed the perfect summer internship. You rocked the interview, got selected above a ton of applicants, and you’re on top of the world and on the road to success.
Well, hopefully. Getting the position may seem like the hardest part (you spent hours perfecting your cover letter and résumé, and practiced interview answers in your mirror every night…needless to say, the job is well deserved), but you can’t stop there. You have to continually make a good impression on your superiors, especially the ones with the power to give you a good review or recommendation letter – because that means they have the power to dish you a bad one, too.
Straight from the Horse’s Mouth: What Employers Say You Should NEVER Do
Having a negative attitude is a major problem when you’re an intern. Your employers want to know that you care about the work you’re doing, are ready to learn, and are excited about interning for them. Dr. Randall Hansen, founder and president of Quintessential Career says to avoid:
- Being Rude
- Disrespecting Coworkers (Hint: A common mistake among interns is treating secretaries and clerks as being beneath them.)
- Being close-minded
- Appearing arrogant
- Appearing inflexible
These create concern for your boss when it comes to whether you can be a dependable employee, not to mention someone people want to be around. “There is nothing worse than having a toxic employee in an organization that has a bad attitude that affects his/her performance and that of others,” says Heather Geyer, assistant to the City Manager and Public Information Officer for the City of Wheat Ridge, Colo. So head to your internship every day with a positive attitude, and your superiors will remember your pleasant outlook when it comes time for them to give a recommendation.
Social media is great for keeping in touch with friends, but on your OWN TIME. Even if you’re not getting paid, don’t waste the company’s time and resources, and most importantly, don’t let yourself appear unprofessional.
“Unless your supervisor specifically tells you that Facebook, YouTube and personal calls are part of your job, disconnect during your work hours,” saysRich Brame, Alumni Relations Director for the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS).
You know what “proper attire” is in a professional setting: so don’t bypass your black dress skirt for Daisy Dukes. If you aren’t sure how casual you can dress, ask your employer about the company’s dress code. After a few days on the job, you should be able to pick up on what’s acceptable from those around you.
Take the setting into consideration: Fashion-related internship? Don’t show up in sweats.
“Conform and leave your 17-year-old wardrobe behind if you’re not 17. Remember, ‘underwear’ is supposed to be worn under your clothes, not poking out,” says Brame.
For more internship wardrobe advice, and a list of what to avoid, check out this article.
Not giving into the temptation of gossip will be hard for any girl, especially when you want to bond with your new female coworkers. After all, women of every age connect with each other by analyzing other people’s drama. This can create problems, though, so be cautious.
While having relationships with your colleagues is important, you shouldn’t run the risk of offending any of them either, especially if it’s a superior. Avoid burning any bridges with anyone you work with by not spreading rumors and not believing everything you hear.
Keep chitchat short so that you use your time wisely. An employer will not appreciate finding you having a casual conversation when you should be devoting your time to more vital tasks. “You never wanted to be associated with the idea that you are someone who has too much time on their hands and would rather waste company time than be productive,” saysBrame.
When faced with workplace gossip, ask yourself if you would want your coworkers to talk about you. If not, let the gossip end with you – rumors only survive as long as people continue to spread them. If you get dragged into a gossip session, try changing the subject as soon as possible. Lead by example and show your coworkers that negative gossip creates a bad work environment for everyone.
Come Unprepared or Unwilling to Learn
An internship is meant to be a learning process, says Randall Hansen. “While the employer expects to get a certain level of work from you, you are not expected to know everything,” he says. “Don’t be afraid to ask questions.”
In every job there are resources to further your knowledge about the industry you are working for. “Take every opportunity presented to you to attend company or industry meetings, conferences, and events; participate in training workshops; and read all company materials,” says Hansen. Even boring meetings offer noteworthy information and a chance to network with people in the field.
Going to your internship unprepared makes just as bad of an impression as not caring about the internship at all. “Never go to a meeting without your calendar and something with which to take notes,” says Brame. “You won’t be included in meetings if your presence isn’t needed.”
You should know what your employer expects out of you after the first few days of your internship. Make sure to bring any necessary supplies or dress appropriately for the tasks you are dealt. Don’t be frequently late or leave early – this leaves an impression that the internship is not important to you.
Learn From Their Mistakes: Intern Disasters
Employers and former interns reveal the worst intern incidents they’ve come across.
Revealing Company Secrets
Don’t do it.
This might seem obvious to anyone who’s ever had to sign some kind of confidentiality form (most of us), but just in case some people missed the memo, keep private information private.
“I interned at a Philadelphia magazine last semester, and in the really wry intern guide they gave us, there was a story about some dumbo who called up a restaurant to fact check something and said something along the lines of ‘congratulations – you won Best of Philly!’ when everyone (except said intern) knows that Best of Philly is totally top-secret until publication,” says Katie Sanders, University of Pennsylvania 2012 and a Her Campus Contributing Writer.
LOL @ This: How 2 B Like Unprofessional
While text abbreviations are fine for your friends, you should let your employers and coworkers know that you can, in fact, spell words like “you” and “with;” you know that “2” is a number and is spelled “two” (and not used interchangeably with “to” and “too”), and that LOL, OMG, and IDK are not real words – or for use in spoken language.
“I ended up working during the school year at the same place I’d interned over the summer, so I saw two interns come in after me,” says Jocelyn Baird, a Syracuse University alumna. “Much of what we did as assistants/interns involved emailing – between clients and staff within the company – and all of those emails went into the file for whichever client they pertained to. I noticed several times during filing that both girls would use ‘text’ speak in their emails to office staff. Thankfully, I don’t think either of them ever emailed clients using anything but formal English, but it really sets off a bad impression when you send your BOSS an email with abbreviations like ‘ur’ and ‘2.’ You want to always be on top of your game and impress; even if it’s ‘just’ an email to a coworker, you should use proper English and grammar.”
Rich Brame lets Her Campus know how to realize when your vocabulary is not appropriate for the professional world:
- Describe a recent frustrating scenario from work or school. If you can’t describe that situation without expletives or the word “like,” it’s time to upgrade your vocabulary.
- Never IM, email, or speak in a way that wouldn’t go over perfectly at your grandmother’s Thanksgiving dinner.
Pet-Friendly Workplaces – They’re Rare
“snakes and a very large white rat,” says Michael Fisher, an area livestock extension agent. “SSeveral years ago, I had an intern working for me who kept a couple of he became aware of my opinion of rats and decided that it would be fun to bring it in to the office and drop it on my shoulder. I am a pretty good-natured person, but my secretary was not nearly as polite when the intern unwisely pulled the stunt with her. It could have been a very poor choice career-wise and was almost hazardous to the rat’s health. This past summer, I was contacted as a reference because she was changing careers. The interviewer asked me if I ever had any unprofessional experiences from this former intern. Immediately the rat incident popped to mind. That is not exactly the kind of story most prospective employers are going to want to hear.”
Down in the Dumps…or Pond
While no one wants to fall into a dirty pond, the experience shouldn’t ruin your entire internship experience. That is just what happened to an intern of Rutgers doctoral candidate Jeremy Feinberg, however. After taking an accidental, and highly unfortunate, dive into a pond while out in the field for the internship, the intern became distant, uncommunicative, and miserable. His parents even called Feinberg’s bosses to complain about the incident. This was ridiculous, he said, because a 19-year-old should be able to talk to his boss about problems he’s experiencing without getting his parents involved. At the end of the internship, the intern took off without ceremony and couldn’t even be bothered to get his last paycheck.
10 Things To Do Before You Start Your Internship
Your first day at a new internship is essentially your first day at kindergarten: part two. While you’re probably not pumping yourself up with a brand new Barbie lunchbox and hot-pink jelly sandals this time, you still have some slightly more professional prep work to do before your first day. So before you strap on your pair of pumps for the first day at the office, here are the top 10 things every intern needs to do ahead of time.
1. Familiarize yourself with the company
Consider this your homework assignment for your first day. Understanding the company’s mission and office hierarchy are crucial aspects of any job, and they will make your life SO much easier (promise!). Heather Huhman, founder and president of Come Recommended, a content marketing consultancy for career-focused organizations, recommends, “Be familiar with the company before you begin your internship. It is important to confirm to whom and where you are reporting.” Plus, showing that you understand the fundamental values of the company before your internship even starts will show special dedication to becoming a cohesive part of the office from the get-go.
If you haven’t already done so, now’s a great time to peruse the company’s website. Pay special attention to the “about us” section and the company’s mission statement (if you can find it), as these reflect the company at its core. Also, you’ll definitely want to stay current on the latest happenings within the company. An easy way to do this is to sign up for Google Alerts using the name of the company you are interning for and any corporate heads as your keywords. That way, anytime a story breaks with any of the keywords you chose, Google will automatically email you the articles! Can it get any easier than that?
2. Practice your commute
Arriving late, in general, is bad. Arriving late on the first day is awful and sets a sloppy tone for the rest of your internship. Huhman says, “Take a test drive to the office. Knowing where you are going will only help you be on time—or even early—when coming in on your first day.” Especially if you’re planning on using public transportation to commute, make sure you double check the bus/train/subway schedules and practice walking from your stop to your office. Although starting your day with a power run can be quite invigorating…it loses a little something in a dress and heels. However, on the off chance that you arrive late, you can learn how to avert this crisis here.
3. Become proficient in Microsoft Office Suite
Sure, we all learned how to type Word documents in second grade computer class, and (call it a hunch) you probably wouldn’t be in college if you weren’t computer literate. But it’s never a bad idea to refresh your memory on how major computer programs run. While you’re probably a pro at making every emoticon possible on Facebook chat, (sadly) that won’t come in handy at the office. Especially if your internship involves a lot of typing or mathematical formulas, becoming familiar with Word and Excel shortcuts can save you a lot of time and frustration. A not-so-tech-savvy collegiette™ remembers, “At my first internship I had to ask a million questions everyday on how to format things in Excel…It was kind of embarrassing.” For even the most technologically challenged collegiettes™ out there, you can master the art of the spreadsheet on this website. After you’ve mastered Excel, check out the computer programs that every collegiette™ should learn here. Also, if you’re usually a Mac user, you should take time before you start your internship to familiarize yourself with how a PC works (and vice versa) by playing around on a friend’s laptop.
4. Know the office dress code
When you work at Target, it’s the khaki pants and red shirt ensemble. At McDonalds, you have to rock the golden arches hat and polo. Case in point: every job has its own unique dress code. Huhman says, “It is important to have appropriate outfits available for your new internship. Make sure you understand the dress code and if need be, go shopping beforehand.” Knowing what is appropriate to wear to work is crucial to your success at your internship. If you start your first day in the fashion industry in a Hilary Clinton-esque power suit, you probably won’t be known for your cutting edge style around the office. Not sure what the dress code is? Don’t be afraid to e-mail your supervisor ahead of time and ask!
5. Read the newspaper
While I’m not suggesting that you read the entire newspaper cover to cover (seriously, you can skip through the ads and cartoons), it’s important to be current on world events. If your co-workers are discussing the U.S. economic crisis and you interject with “OMG Obama’s the president now?”—you won’t be doing yourself any favors. No matter the industry you are interning in, knowing the names of key players in our government and staying up-to-date on major world events is imperative. If you don’t have time to physically sit down and read the newspaper, try setting your homepage to a news website aimed at your line of work. Business interns should consider reading Businessweek or The Wall Street Journal, advertising interns can focus on AdAge, and government interns should pay attention to CNN, etc. Make checking the latest industry news a priority before you leave for work every morning. That way, you’ll always sound professional and informed when chatting around the water cooler with your coworkers.
10 Things to Do When You’re Bored at Your Internship
While some internships stick interns with tasks like running errands and photocopying, occasionally an internship will have an intern doing nothing…absolutely nothing. Doing nothing might sound like a dream to those who are getting yelled at for getting their supervisors a skim latte when they asked for a soy latte, but doing nothing gets boring fast. So if you’re spending eight hours everyday staring at a clock, here are some ways to pass the time.
1. Ask Your Supervisor for Something To Do
If you feel like your supervisor’s ignoring you, it might be because he or she has forgotten you’re there. Don’t take it personally. Your supervisor is probably not used to having someone who can make phone calls or fact-check, so he or she just starts to do it before thinking to ask you. Whether or not your supervisor actually has an assignment to give you, asking will make him or her more likely to think of you next time something needs to be done. Simply walk over and say something like, “I’m finished with X, Y, and Z tasks, so please let me know if there’s anything I can help you with.” If you’re worried about disturbing your supervisor while he or she is busy, send an email instead of asking in person.
2. Ask Everyone Else for Something To Do
There’s likely SOMEONE in your department who’s just totally overwhelmed and could use your help, so ask around. And if no one needs your help, take it as a sign you’re in the right industry—one where no one’s feeling so stressed out that they need an intern to finish their work for them.
3. Research Your Company and Competitors
Make sure you’re up on anything and everything going on at your company or in your industry. If you’re at a magazine or newspaper, read back issues. If you’re at a large corporation, Google News it. Then do the same for other companies in your industry. It will help you see what makes your company different than everyone else. That way, when you are given an assignment, you’ll know more about what your supervisor expects.
4. Create Your Own Assignment
Normally you want to avoid creating more work for yourself. But not if you’re an intern. Had a suggestion for your company’s new marketing strategy or an article pitch? Write up a proposal and send it to your supervisor. Hopefully, she’ll like it and let you work on it. At worst, she’ll decide not to use it, but at least she’ll know that you’re enthusiastic and thinking about your company.
5. Read Your Favorite Websites
But keep it to ones you can claim are related to your internship, and try not to make that reason too far-fetched. Luckily, if you’re working in a field you like, it shouldn’t be too hard to find something you like to read that is relevant to your work.
You should be able to explain it if your supervisor comes over or checks your computer’s history. And no, Facebook and Twitter are not related to your internship. Unless, of course, you’re looking for sources for an article or pubbing for your company’s event…
If you’ve finished one through four, you’ve done more than anyone can reasonably expect you to do (I mean, seriously, you’ve created your own work!). So just take a deep breath and relax. Meditate. Take some moments of “you” time. You deserve it.
7. Work Out
If there’s no more work you can do for your company, do some work for yourself. Of course, your options are limited since you’re at a desk. But why not try a chair roll? Sit up tall in your chair. Dig your heels into the floor and push the chair back. Roll the chair front and back, just using your feet. You can check out more desk exercises here.
8. Tour The Building
If the desk exercises aren’t cutting it for you, give yourself your own walking tour of your building. There’s a slight risk that you’ll be missing when your supervisor needs you, but if he or she hasn’t needed you all day, it might be worth it. Besides, it’s a good chance to get to know where everything is, in case your supervisor asks you to deliver a memo to another department or make some coffee (or maybe do something cool and interesting). Important tour stops include the chatty intern in finance and the cute guy in marketing, as well as the freebie table.
9. Volunteer Yourself for a Coffee Run
Coffee runs might be a dreaded task for most interns, but if you’re stuck in the office with nothing to do, waiting in line at Starbucks doesn’t sound so bad. Even if the line is really long. Actually, it might be better if the line is really long. Or, at least, if you tell your supervisor the line is really long—while you make a quick pit stop at the J. Crew next door.
10. Repeat Steps 5, 6, 7, and 9.
Become an “ohm” master. Get really good at those desk exercises. Make sure you’re 100% sure where the cute guy’s desk is. Don’t volunteer for another coffee break because that might seem like you’re trying to avoid being in the office. Stalk your favorite work-related blogs instead. And read Her Campus. But that goes without saying.