The Top 10 Intern Mistakes

US News

It's in the details.

If you're an intern, you probably won't blow your chances for career advancement by making a mistake on actual work. The real land mines you'll trip on are the seemingly small things you might be too new to know matter. Here are the top 10 things you should never do if you're an intern.

Mistake No. 1: Saying 'yes' to the wrong internship.

During your search you should pay more attention to the duties on the job listing than you do to a company name. The best internship opportunities should further your career, so choose wisely. Receiving actual assignments at a little-heard-of organization is a superior opportunity compared to being the coffee gofer at a tony company.

Mistake No. 2: Scoffing at the trivial tasks.

Don't take the last slide to mean there will never be coffee to fetch or folders to file. Administrative and operational tasks are a part of everyone's job description, from those in the C-suite, to those in the intern bullpen. The attitude with which you handle these types of assignments clues a discerning manager in to your professional character.

Mistake No. 3: Wearing the wrong thing.

Your days of traipsing across the quad in pajama pants and flip flops are behind you. "Business attire" and "business casual" are capricious guidelines, so to be sure, you should call either your hiring manager or someone in human resources before your start date and ask about the organization's dress code. Then honor it.

Mistake No. 4: Poor time management.

Most workdays aren't spent drilling away at one thing; instead, you're juggling many tasks of varying magnitudes at once. Don't sideline the important projects all for the expense of working on less crucial jobs. Ask your boss which assignments are priorities, and make sure to devote most of your energy to completing them.

Mistake No. 5: Working in a vacuum.

Academics isn't a team sport, but the working world is. Failing to recognize how your work affects the work of others and choosing to ignore anything that isn't directly related to what you've been assigned are career-killing moves. Be a team player. Pay attention in all meetings -- even ones where you're not called on to speak. Read each email, including those without a call to action.

Mistake No. 6: Being seen and not heard.

Your strength isn't just measured by the work you submit. Show your value by being a vocal participant in projects, and not just to your direct supervisor, but with other colleagues, too. Ask questions and present new ideas in meetings. Ask a staffer whom you admire to have a cup of coffee with you.

Mistake No. 7: Ignoring social graces.

Failing to observe supposedly small aspects of an organization's culture, like the management pecking order, the preferred forms of communication (IM, email, face-to-face meetings, etc.) or even the restroom etiquette (seriously) could be more damning than you realize. Observe how other staff members interact with each other, then mirror some of those habits.

Mistake No. 8: Shirking quality at the expense of quantity.

You don't get an A for effort in the real world. You should pay more attention to the objective of the assignment you're given than you do the deadline. If you find when working hard that the original timeline for completion is unreasonable, talk to your manager. Doing the job right is preferable to turning in a half-done assignment just to reach a quota.

Mistake No. 9: Not requesting feedback.

Unlike in school, at work there aren't regular progress reports on performance. You'll often have to seek feedback on how well you're doing. By doing so you're more likely to get a candid and thoughtful response from your manager on what you've done well and what you should improve upon.

Mistake No. 10: Wearing your heart on your sleeve.

Brace yourself for the feedback you receive -- the days of coddling from parents, teachers and advisors are over. The stakes at work are higher than in school, and mistakes -- which will happen -- are more costly. Starting on the internship level you'll need a thick skin to weather the roller coaster of career successes and failures.

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