You walk in on the first day, coffee in hand, brand new outfit on and innocent enthusiasm all over your face. You’ve entered the world of minimal to unpaid labor: internships. It’s a strange land where your most valuable asset is experience, not your 4.0 GPA. Most interns have nightmares of being late on the first day, or getting there and realizing you forgot to put on a bra. Those just scratch the surface of potential faux pas as an intern. Both employers and students had advice on things to avoid in the world of internships.
1. They don’t ask enough questions:
Kate Mazzotta is a senior at Florida State University, and an editor at College Magazine who felt the burn from lack of questions. “At my first internship, I accidentally deleted two years’ worth of transcripts from my boss’ hard drive because I was too embarrassed to ask which ones he wanted me to delete. They were the wrong ones obviously,” Mazzotta said. It’s easy to feel like your questions are stupid ones, even if the answers would save your ass. Just remember the occasional confusion is a given; if you already knew how everything worked getting an internship would be useless. Not only will asking a lot of questions help keep that eager beaver look, it’ll make you seem like you’re actually observing your environment.
2. They rush through the details:
Jennie Weaver, an event coordinator for The Country Club of Ocala, had an intern that proved minor details turn into major mistakes. “We were hosting a communion event for a Catholic family, so everything was supposed to be white and clean. The intern mixed up the banquet orders for that and a black tie event, so the black linens for the other event came for the communion event. I got there and had to re-set everything. He just didn’t check all the paperwork,” said Weaver. Something as minute as putting an order in the wrong folder tainted a pure Catholic event with all black linen. “It may not seem like a big deal, but it is when the family walks in expecting one thing and sees the opposite,” said Weaver.
3. They only speak when spoken to:
People who chill in their comfort zone rarely catch the eye of employers. So if there’s one place to ditch the wallflower persona, it’s at your internship. “You need to offer yourself up to do whatever, don’t sit back and wait. They won’t just offer up experience so you have to go after it,” said Weaver. It’s no secret that there aren’t a lot of jobs to go around after graduation. Instead of making the move back home after getting your degree, snag a job by being someone that’s eager to exit that comfort zone. Opinions, ideas and being up for anything can set you apart from the intern robots who simply follow directions. Weaver agrees that waiting for the experience to come to you is not conducive to a post-grad career.
4. They break professionalism:
For people who are fresh into the workforce, it’s exhausting to keep up the constant professional personality. When we’re at work, we need to make a conscious effort to hide our natural sarcasm or the eye rolling we do out of habit. Even if acting like yourself will put you at ease, it sends the wrong message around the office. “Students tend to feel like they should act like they’re buddies to ease the tension, but then they break the line of professionalism. Don’t be unfriendly, but don’t joke around with your boss. You aren’t there long enough to see the limits so don’t test them,” said Weaver.
5. They don’t admit defeat:
Screwing up puts us into fight or flight mode. We either scramble trying to fix and cover up, or run to someone to mend things for us. The best response is a happy medium between the two; go ask for advice, but advice on how you should fix it yourself. “We had an intern at the club golf course, so he spent time in a lot of different spots. He mixed up a few things and needed to be humble and admit he made a mistake,” said Weaver. You’ll want to come across as the perfect and competent intern who is always on top of things, but that’s ambitious considering your role. Embrace the learning curve because it’s a steep mountain with an arduous climb.
Let’s face it, the real world is scariest fictional planet ever created. This is your first adventure into the world of journalism, accounting, event planning or whatever you’ve spent your entire college career studying from a textbook. The terrifying truth is that the real life situation is a completely different universe than the classroom. You’ll get some unexpected obstacles; some that may make you rethink your entire career. Being prepared enough to avoid these mistakes is just one more thing to set you apart from the other interns being shuffled in and out of the office.