Spilling the Coffee: How to Recover from Internship Embarrassments

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Today’s the day. You wake up from the sleep you didn’t get, dress like an urban professional and cling to your coffee tightly to calm your shaking hands. Caught in a strange limbo between student and employee, you desperately want to prove you have what it takes to rock the workforce and crush your new internship. However, sometimes your hands are going to slip, the coffee is going to spill and the internship is inevitably going to crush you.

Don’t worry. All spills can be cleaned up. Here’s how to recover from the most embarrassing intern mishaps.

Use Google

Your boss has made the mistake of whipping out the technical work jargon on you, and you have no clue what she just said. Atlantic Animal Hospital intern Chandler Webb knows this struggle all too well. “I had no idea what my boss was talking about when he started describing his daughter’s upcoming knee surgery using fancy medical terms,” Webb said. After having just assisted with leg surgery on a dog, Webb had to fake his understanding until he could get his hands on the Internet. If you ever find yourself trying not to look like a deer in headlights, rely on your friend, Google. Nod at the alien your boss just became, and do a quick search to translate the nonsense into terms you will understand.

Joke it off

University of Virginia intern Max Luo admitted he misspelled his supervisor’s name in a form that was due on his first day. As Luo recounted, “My supervisor walked into the room where all of the interns on my floor were working and pronounced his misspelled name on the newsletter and everyone started to laugh.” In cases like this, you can either suffer in the embarrassment and feel terrible for the rest of the day, or you can laugh at yourself and turn the awkward situation into a joke. The latter is a smart choice, provided you time your gags appropriately. If your boss has a decent sense of humor, you could butcher his name even worse to continue the joke next time you run into him. You’re not a clumsy intern — you’re hilarious.

Divide and conquer

OK, so maybe you aren’t exactly an expert in Photoshop, Illustrator, Final Cut Pro, Excel and every other software program you managed to squeeze on your resume. If your boss gives you an assignment you can’t quite knock out, take a look at the people around you. They are employees who know how to do their jobs. Before asking for their help, plan your attack. Don’t overwhelm one employee with every question you have, or that person will think you’re completely incompetent. Try dividing up your questions among the fellow employees you confide in most. “It’s important to feel out your employees skillsets so you can optimize each person’s strengths and cover each other’s weaknesses,” University of Virginia architecture intern Katharine Graham said. Then, you can piece together everyone’s collaborative strengths, rock the assignment and add a new skill to your resume. Oh wait…

Write everything down

You definitely don’t want to ask the head honcho to repeat herself. Writing everything down not only makes you look resourceful, but constantly engaged and conscientious of your surroundings. Pro tip: Don’t pull out Notes on your iPhone because it’s going to look like you’re texting on the job. Instead, always have a pen and notebook nearby for those times your boss decides to chuck some names and numbers your way. Just remember, as Virginia Film Festival production intern Jared Huggins said, “It’s also important to listen with your ears, not just your hand, and be engaged in conversations and meetings.”

Dispose of the evidence

Every new intern is going to make mistakes, but some are bound to be messier than others. After eating salad on a paper plate, Edward Jones financial advisory intern Ashley Glennon immediately turned red. She had clearly overestimated the amount of dressing she would need and had to toss out the super-soaked plate discreetly. Glennon proceeded to fold her plate in half as she passed a co-worker, only to leave behind a trail of dripping ranch all over the carpet flooring. Nice one, intern. She swiftly recovered by retracing her steps with Clorox and paper towels in hand. Ranch crisis averted. Thus, as you scope out your new work environment on day one, be sure to take note of the cleaning closet. It may be your savior one day.

No intern is perfect, and imperfection is even expected of you. How you recover from your awkward and embarrassing moments on the job ultimately reveals your true work ethic. So release that tight grip on your coffee and let it spill all over the place because it’s not the spill that matters, it’s how you clean it up.

Dallas Simms is a third year at the University of Virginia pursuing Media Studies and Arts Administration. He enjoys kayaking, running, eating trail mix, and secretly watching Pretty Little Liars as “research” for his future screenwriting career.

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