Internship Pitfalls

At this point in my career, I have had the opportunity to work with and mentor dozens of interns. Some I’ve hired, others I’ve helped gotten hired, and many others have done great work and would get a great recommendation from me if they ever needed it. However, I’ve also encountered situations that left me less than impressed. I bring this up because although it is disappointing to an employer, it can be incredibly damaging to an individual’s career – although generally speaking hopefully not. I say damaging because if you leave a bad impression with an employer, you likely aren’t able to get a good reference, the connections you make won’t be all that powerful, and a bad reputation could end up following you around. Below are some mistakes I’ve seen interns make over the last few years – they should be avoided at all costs.

Lying on Your Resume

This should be a no-brainer but I’m always surprised by how much individuals either embellish or flat out lie on their resumes. I’m generally able to weed out candidates that have embellished qualifications during the interview process. It’s even more disappointing when you hire someone only to find-out they aren’t able to do the things you hired them for.

Checked-out Towards the End

It’s always hard to watch someone work hard and find success, only to see all the momentum sputter at the finish line. Additionally, I try to time the conclusion of projects to last through an interns’ final day. That means if they check-out right before the finish line, a lot of work, important work, goes unfinished. Leaving a sour taste in your managers mouth is not the way you want to be remembered.

Quit Nearly Immediately

I once had an intern quit less than 10 days into the internship because they didn’t feel as though they could make the commitment. Yikes. Do not ever accept a position if you aren’t sure you can make the commitment. This was a disaster for our department.

Spend the Day Completing Homework

I like to think I am one of the most flexible and understanding managers that my staff will ever have. I expect a lot from them, but I also try to be a manager who would go to the end of the Earth for his team. So it’s understandably frustrating when work that is assigned is put aside for other tasks. I’m all for people finishing their school work if it’s a light day or if there isn’t a lot on the plate, but to come in and get paid hourly for doing school work when there is other meaningful work for the firm to be done, is dishonest.

Not Being Accountable

We once had an intern who routinely came in late, took multi-hour lunches, and generally had very little accountability. Despite being talked to multiple times about this, accountability never got to where it needed to be. In retrospect, we probably should have cut ties after no improvement. The kicker to this example is about a year later, a job opened up that would have been this individuals dream job, and they reached out to me about it. Their skillset was exactly what I was looking for. However, given the issues in accountability we had when they interned, I couldn’t in good faith recommend them for the position.

Being Above the Work

Nothing makes me shake my head more than when an intern makes comments or complains about the work given to them because they feel as though the work is below them. Ask anyone who has ever interned for me, one of the first conversations I have with them once they start is to develop an internship plan that touches on an assortment of projects that will help them develop both personally and professionally. The caveat I always layout though, is that there will be times in which busy work will be assigned and need to be carried out. I also always go on to explain that everyone on my staff, including me, all do busy work. I’m not sure whether it’s because some candidates are getting advanced masters degrees such as their MBA’s and they aren’t used to being part of a staff rather than having their own, or whether it’s something else entirely, but being too good to carry out certain tasks is almost always an immediate ticket to being in my dog-house. I look for people to join my team who can do exactly that, be a part of a team – and sometimes that means rolling your sleeves up and doing the dirty work every once-in-a-while. Stay humble.

Consider internships as a multi-month interview. It’s an opportunity to truly stand out amongst your peers. It’s also an opportunity to really shoot yourself in the foot and tarnish your brand if you don’t try your best. When new positions open at my organization, the first people I think about filling those positions with are the interns who stood out. The interns who stand out are not always necessarily the most gifted or brilliant either, but they are nearly always the ones who were the most accountable, the ones that worked the hardest, and those that demonstrated a desire to develop themselves both personally and professionally during their internship.