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10 Of the Most Common Mistakes Made by Interns

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It is now officially June, which means there are a bunch of really young, eager people running around your office, AKA interns. Interns can be wonderful and super helpful (Levo just got a fabulous group of talented young women!) but being in the workforce, especially at a huge corporation, can come with a set of rules that they don’t teach you in college. There are some very common mistakes interns make because they haven’t learned some of the intricacies of the workplace. To give you an advantage we’ve compiled advice from experts:

1) Missing your interview for the internship

This would be the first one right off the bat. Nicole Rivera, founder of Max P. Productions, said she has found interns not showing up for scheduled interviews and then not calling to inform her, to be a big problem. She told Levo:

The point here is that interns must realize that an internship is extremely important for both them and the employer. It is the beginning of their business careers and an excellent opportunity to build relationships with future employers. They must understand that these incidences are remembered by the employer and if in the future they want to work with the individual or company they will unfortunately be remembered for their lack of responsibility.

2) Dressing Inappropriately

It is tough to figure out how to dress for work, especially if you are in an unconventional work environment. “Not understanding that ‘business casual‘ doesn’t mean flip flops, too-short miniskirts, or grungy jeans. The dress code for young professionals has drastically slipped down the slope, especially when working in a business like mine that serves more traditional/conservative clients,” said Sue Grabowski, president of Grabowski & Co., a marketing communications firm in Ohio.

When in doubt dress up. It is always better to be too fancy rather than too casual in work environments. Remember, dressing up doesn’t mean dressing up for going to a bar on Saturday night. Read the environment. If you work at a law firm or investment bank, go with a suit or pencil skirt ensemble. If it is a more casual environment, like a start-up, go with more casual pants and skirts. Look how people are dressing around you.

3) Drinking alcohol

This can be tricky if you are at a work party (and are legal). If everyone is drinking (and I mean everyone) then you can consider it but do not look at this as an opportunity to get totally intoxicated. Similarly, if you are out to lunch with your supervisors or any higher ups in the company, do not order alcohol!

4) Thinking you know exactly what you are supposed to be doing

Greg Brooks, founder of Text Book Assault, said:

The biggest mistake interns make is coming in with a predefined notion of what they should do and how they should do it. Oddly enough, movies, blogs, or other media impact what an intern expects to do and how to contribute. In reality, each company is a completely different culture and has a different set of needs. It is crucial for interns to listen and learn — they are, after all, there to increase their work experience.

5) Thinking about only what you can get from the internship, not what you can give

Nicole Lindsay, founder of DiversityMBAPrep, told Levo:

A common mistake that interns make is approaching the internship as if their primary goal is to learn. Of course, learning more about an industry or company, and building new skills and knowledge are important bi-products of any internship. Interns can gain valuable experience and relationships that they can leverage in the future and to possibly secure a full-time job opportunity at the company. Mindset matters! Successful interns focus on what they can deliver, not on what they will be able to get from the internships. They make take on one or two less glamorous assignments if it will help the team, which builds trust and buy-in which can lead to more substantive projects.

6) Time Management

Dana Kaye, founder of Kaye Publicity, told Levo she finds that her interns often have trouble managing their time. As Kaye explains, “Interns are very concerned with doing everything right, so they often spend too much time on a project, trying to achieve perfection. To me, it’s more important for them to make their deadlines. I’d rather an intern complete a project on time, even if it needs some tweaking.”

7) Arguing after making a mistake

Kaye said this is also something she sees. She told Levo, “The most common mistake is arguing. It’s more defensive than antagonistic, but too often interns argue after making a mistake. They’ll tell me why they did something wrong or try to defend their actions. Instead, they should listen and learn what they did wrong so they don’t do it again.”

8) Poorly written emails

Sara Wilson is an account coordinator at a PR firm and manages their internship program. Wilson explained that there is a lack of email courtesy, “Email is not like texting, but interns treat it as such. Start an email with a salutation and end with ‘Thank you’ or ‘Best’ at least. Putting ‘???’ at the end of a question is not only unprofessional, but also comes off a little hostile and demanding.”

9) Complain about being bored

Guess what? Work is not as fun as a party. “I know you’re bored sometimes. Me too. It’s called work, not keep-me-entertained land,” said Wilson.

10) Not speaking up!

You may feel insecure because you are younger and less experienced than everyone else but that doesn’t mean that you don’t have great ideas! “Offer suggestions. Just because you are an intern doesn’t mean you don’t have smart ideas. You may say something like, ‘I know you’ve been using this system but I’m thinking you might want to consider this other one because you might save time,” said Teri Scheinzeit, The Savvy Business Coach.


#Communication Bosses Productivity #Employer #Internship #Professional Attire Career Advice
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Love this article! It's especially helpful since I am going through an internship myself right now. And yes, many of these mistakes I am guilty of. Thanks for advice on how to handle these situations.

As for #2, I think that on the first day of any job, you should always overdress and then from there you can build around what the outfit culture seems to be.

I am interning as well, thank you for this advice! It's so important to cast yourself in a positive light during an internship if you are planning on applying for a job in the same company later on. This article is a great guideline for how to showcase yourself in that positive light!

This is a wonderful article that highlights important tips for creating the best internship experience for yourself and turning your internship into something longterm!

Sara Wilson was dead on: “I know you’re bored sometimes. Me too. It’s called work, not keep-me-entertained land." In one of my internships, my supervisor was always asking if I was bored. During one project involving many, many spreadsheets, I responded that it was not the most fun I'd ever had, but it's part of the job. It's fine to recognize that work may not always be interesting, but remember that it does have a purpose. Great piece!

Great article and an important list of what to avoid to make the best of your internship!

Katherine Davis
Katherine Davis

I could not agree more with #10. The one thing I regret from my last internship was not speaking up in team meetings. At weekly team meetings everyone would talk about the work they were doing. When it was my turn, I would give a cursory overview thinking no one really cared what the intern was working on, and I rarely gave feedback or advice to other co-workers thinking I was too inexperienced to be helpful. I only later realized that people actually did want to know about my work and that I had missed an opportunity to both give and receive constructive feedback.

Thank you for the great article! I must, however, disagree with number 5, at least in the context of unpaid internships. The Fair Labor Standards Act actually specifies that in a legal unpaid internship, "The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern ... The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded." So, in fact, if the intern is not paid, "their primary goal is to learn." I just thought it might be helpful to clarify that.

These are great simple tips that I think are sometimes overlooked when interns are trying to fit in to the atmosphere of their new job. I'm interning right now, and I will definitely keep these tips in mind at all times.

Point #8 is so true! Last summer while I was doing my internship I used to get emails form other interns with shortened words like "msg" instead of message, "pls" instead of please and so on! That's a BIG "NO NO"!

Jeuh Leuh
Jeuh Leuh

Great insight.

Internships are scary experiences. Especially if you have never had a "REAL" job before. Great advice for interns.

The best part about internships though is that they are a great time for mistakes. People do realize you are not perfect, and you are very inexperienced. Many interns think they must perform perfectly in order to land a job. Which is in fact not true.

Thanks again for the great article!
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