Professional Development

15 Amateur Mistakes You Can Make During Your Internship

Written by Peter Jones

You’ve scored a summer internship. It feels like a vacation! You’ll be in a cool place, it will look good on your resume, and you’re not getting paid, so you don’t have to worry too much about being perfect and distinguishing yourself. Right? Wrong. At least the last point. Just because it’s only an internship doesn’t mean you shouldn’t treat it like a job. In fact, you should use this time to set the bar for your new professional life—and set it high. That means not falling victim to some easy blunders.

Here are the 15 biggest mistakes interns can make—and how to avoid them.

1. Oversharing

You may think this one part of your personality is super interesting and funny. Or your intense obsession with your [insert hobby]. But these topics are much better kept to your friends and relatives. Spare your employers and co-interns.

2. Complaining

Your internship is not the time to air your complaints and grievances. It is a time to shut up and learn. Remember, you won’t be there long, and the good impression you make here could pay off big time over the course of your career. Whatever gripes you have, hold on to them(if possible). Don’t become a problem employee before you’re even hired.

3. Making assumptions

If you don’t know something—make sure to ask. The last thing you want to do is assume (makes a** of ‘u’ and ‘me’) you know what to do and end up doing the wrong thing. You won’t look like an idiot for asking. You will look like an idiot for not asking and then screwing up.

4. Not being proactive

Not taking initiative might be the worst mistake that you could make. As an intern, your only job is to distinguish yourself as eager and proactive and as a future asset to that company/field. Act accordingly. Don’t just wait for someone to give you a task—find something useful to do without being asked or coached.

5. Treating the office like your place

Once you leave the office for the day, don’t go back. Don’t show up drunk, and don’t sleep there. This shouldn’t have to be said; just never do it.

6. Ignoring boundaries

Rudeness is never okay. No job is beneath you. You are an intern. You don’t get to make chummy jokes with the CEO, no matter how nice she is. Know your place. Be respectful. Do your job. And leave your ego at the door.

7. Cutting and running

If you’ve accepted an internship, shown up, and started working. You’re now stuck there. This isn’t speed dating. Keep your commitments. And don’t make anyone have to scramble to replace you when you leave them high and dry. Burning bridges is not something you can afford to do at this very early stage in your career.

8. Working for free

Only take an unpaid internship if you absolutely have to. Otherwise, you’ll end up feeling exploited—or worse, going into debt to feed, house, and insure yourself.

9. Wearing inappropriate clothing

Dress for the career you want, not the job you have. T-shirts and scrappy clothes just won’t cut it–no matter how casual the office. Make sure to act like a grown-up if you want to be treated (and paid) like one.

10. Communicating poorly

Make sure to say what needs to be said at the right time. Answer emails in clear and punctual fashion. Communicate your needs to avoid being misunderstood—especially when asking for favors. Be respectful and concise. And don’t talk circles around your point, particularly if it’s a controversial one.

11. Not sweating the small stuff

Grammar, punctuation, formatting… these things matter. And make sure you never misspell someone’s name. Take the extra three seconds to double check the spelling from their email address.

12. Vacationing

At most, your internship is four months. Don’t try and take a two-week vacation. You don’t need one. Do your job and do it well, and vacation when it’s done. Summer or no summer. Have fun in your evenings and weekends instead.

13. Being lazy or disrespectful

This should go without saying. Don’t be late, don’t shirk work, don’t be rude, don’t be annoying. Don’t be cheeky and take long lunches thinking no one will notice. They will. Work hard and be courteous, rather than obnoxious.

14. Lacking professionalism

This is a professional opportunity. If you play your cards right, you could set yourself up for real success. Don’t risk blowing your chance by treating this like a whimsical little stint. Treat it instead like your first job and act as though you could be fired at the end of every day if you don’t prove your mettle.

15. Not being present

If you’re sent an email, or asked a question, or given a task, don’t fade into the background. Don’t disappear. And don’t fail to respond. Answer respectfully in the affirmative, get the job done quickly and well, and remember: you are an intern. No job is beneath you. You are there to learn.

About the author

Peter Jones