With many students headed to work as interns this summer, it’s important they put their best foot forward and make a good impression as many of these opportunities could turn into full-time jobs after graduation.
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“It’s crucial to present yourself professionally, to take yourself seriously, and to take each day, each task, each minute of this internship very seriously,” says Lauren Berger, CEO of InternQueen.com, who landed 15 internships during her four years of college. “You’re making impressions on people around you at all times that might very rightfully have a say in your future.”
Internships can be very competitive and students want to represent themselves in the best way possible. From how to handle a mistake to making the most of the experience, here are six errors every intern should avoid committing.
Being Too Casual
Whether it’s their clothes, attitude, or day-to-day interactions, some interns cross the line and get too laid back in the office. Ronli Tzour, content coordinator at Clear Channel Radio Digital, that has an intern program, says that no matter the office environment, interns shouldn’t become casual with their superiors.
“At the end of the day, they need to remember that there are supervisors and they need to respect those roles and the nature of it and come at them a little bit more professionally,” she says.
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When writing e-mails or reports, interns should always use proper grammar and check for spelling mistakes; using slang or “text language” is not appropriate. Students should strive to respond to e-mails and tasks quickly and keep mentors and co-workers up to speed on their progress. Establishing good communication skills is a great habit for interns to develop and exhibit on resumes.
Every office has its slow time, but that isn’t a reason for interns to hop on Twitter, unless it’s in their job description.
“If you’re on your personal Facebook page during your internship, that’s just a really quick way to tell the employer that you have better things to do,” Berger says. “It’s important for students to remember that impressions come quick and it’s really easy to make an impression on someone.”
Not Taking Notes
The experts recommend interns always have a pen and notepad on them to avoid having to ask redundant questions when given a task.
“If I’m describing a whole process and the intern isn’t writing it down, I know I’m going to get bombarded 10 minutes from then with exactly what I just explained,” says Tzour. “Write everything down; I don’t care how detailed or how non-detailed it is.”
If interns have looked over the entire assignment, consulted their notes and still have a question, Ross Herosian, manager of college programs and HR projects at SiriusXM Radio,says they should ask rather than play a guessing game.
“Mentors would rather have an intern ask than sit on their hands or barrel through it,” he says.
Getting Stuck in a Rut
The experts suggest interns spread their wings during their work experience and look into opportunities in other departments that interest them. However, they should make sure to handle their assigned tasks first before exploring other opportunities.
“As soon as they tell me what they’re interested in and they’ve helped me out along the way, I want to make sure that they’re taken care of,” says Tzour. “The more assertive they are, the more they’re willing to learn, they need to let us know and that way we can make it happen for them.”
By taking initiative and gaining a wide variety of experiences, interns can also catch the eye of superiors, says Herosian.
“The interns who get out there and do their work and also make it a point to offer their services and volunteer their time and stay a little extra [time] in other areas, even areas they never thought they’d have an interest in, it gets noticed,” he says.
Taking on Too Much at Once
While a good experience, internships can be time consuming and students should evaluate and prioritize their schedules to make sure nothing slips through the cracks.
Kristi Atkinson, a rising junior at the University of Idaho and an Intern Queen campus ambassador, felt like she bit off more than she could chew this past semester; taking 20 credit hours, playing on the soccer team, writing for the school paper, and completing an on-campus internship in addition to several virtual internships.
“I overloaded myself for sure and I got to the point where my priorities weren’t [in order],” she says. “I took on too much at once and I should have taken a little bit at a time.”
Kristi recommends overwhelmed students re evaluate what’s important to them and explain to their boss that they take responsibility for over committing and try and create a workable solution.
“Hopefully they’ll try to work with you and if not, the next step is [deciding] if you really want to be there,” she says.
Taking Yourself Too Seriously
Although interns want to maintain professionalism at all times, there is such a thing as being too uptight, says Melanie Starling, an Intern Queen campus ambassador at Texas A&M.
At a news meeting with the director, anchors and reporters, they were discussing a lead story about an animal hoarding case titled “Cat Seizure” when Starling felt she should ask a question to prove that she was involved.
“I asked, ‘do you have footage of the cats actually seizing?’” she says. “Everybody at the table just looked at me and stared. I thought [the cats] were having epileptic seizures as a result of their habitat, but it was seizing, [as in] taking them from the home.”
While the situation is less than desirable, managers will care more on how interns react and move forward from mistakes.
Despite being the “laughing stock of the news room for about a week,” Starling learned not to take herself too seriously and that standing out from the rest of the group, even with a silly question, can make you memorable. She was offered a position at the end of her internship.
“You’ve just got to lighten it up a bit and go into it wanting to do a good job and to prove yourself, but don’t over-analyze everything,” she says.
Not Owning Up to Mistakes
Interns make mistakes, it happens; after all, this is a learning experience.
Supervisors and internship program coordinators know that this may be students’ first position in a new field, so try to see the value in the mistake and move on.
One way to gain respect from superiors is to own up to the mistake, fix it and then learn from it, says Tzour.
“If I see that an intern makes a mistake but then learns very quickly from it and learns not to do it again, I’m impressed by that,” she says. “That’s someone that can follow directions and can still take control over the situation and help us out however they can.”