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Top 5 Mistakes Interns Make and How to Avoid Them

Published by Ahva Sadeghi on July 11, 2018
3 min read

Ahva Sadeghi

Ahva is the CEO and Co-Founder of Symba. She is a passionate social entrepreneur, and was recently named Forbes 30 Under 30 and a Global Entrepreneur Scholar by the US Department of State. Ahva completed her graduate studies at the London School of Economics and Political Science where she served as President of the Human Rights Students Committee and received the John Lewis Fellow with Humanity in Action.

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Internships are meant for test driving a career. However, many interns often make mistakes that hold them back from a fully fruitful experience. Here are five mistakes to avoid during your internship to make the most out of your program.
1. Being Unprepared

A major mistake is walking into your internship program without doing any prep work. Penny Loretta from The Balance Careers writes, “Thoughts: ‘I searched, I applied, I interviewed, and I finally got my summer internship. Now all I have to do is wait a couple of weeks until my internship is ready to start.’ Wrong!”

Before starting your internship, there is plenty you can do to prepare! Do your homework on the company by checking out their website, reading press releases and coverage, and learning about their team on LinkedIn. You can also find former interns on LinkedIn and reach out to gain insight from their experiences. This preparation will give you confidence for your first day and set you up for a successful internship experience. So, do your homework!

For more on how to prepare, check out How to Prepare Yourself Before the Start of an Internship.

2. Fear of Asking Questions

As an intern, it might feel embarrassing to ask questions. As a newcomer to the office, you might feel nervous and anxious because you do not know all the processes of the office. This feeling is pretty normal. Even experienced professionals just starting a new job feel this anxiety. Do not let it hold you back from asking questions and getting the answers you need to succeed. As some of our most beloved teachers have said, there are no stupid questions. If you continue to be confused about your role and projects throughout the internship, it will be difficult and slow to succeed.

Ask your pressing questions early on in the internship and gain as much knowledge as you can so that the rest of your internship can focus on your contributions to the organization and coming up with out-of-the-box solutions to the problems you’re given. Your intern manager should be your resource and eager to help you succeed. You can also ask other managers and interns within the office if your own manager is unavailable. As an intern, your team will understand that you are in the process of learning and questions are fundamental.

3. Lack of Initiative

“One of the biggest mistakes occurs when interns sit back and wait for direction, information, next steps, guidance, etc. In reality, it’s the intern’s job to move the ball forward,” shares Kimberly A. Whitler from Forbes.

Lack of initiative significantly compromises your internship experience. You run the risk of an unfulfilling internship program if you are stuck with projects that might not interest you or end up with a lot of free time.

Be proactive. You should strive to take more control over your internship experience and get assignments that interest you. Whitler encourages interns to “be comfortable being somewhat assertive.” Communicate with your supervisor and try to go above and beyond the work requirements. An internship is truly an opportunity for you to shine and show a company your work ethic and quality. For more great advice, check out How to Be the Best Intern Ever.

4. Limited Collaboration with Other Interns

Kelly McHugh Chtcheprov from Duke Fuqua School of Business shares that a big internship mistake people make is “missing the opportunity to collaborate with your intern cohort.” During her tech internship, she found out that another intern in the office was working on a similar project and was able to collaborate with them. They shared resources and helped each other succeed.

Your internship experience is a great way for you to meet peers and other inspiring interns with similar career interests as you. These fellow interns can offer a support system and help you excel in your internship. Keep in mind that networking is not always vertical. In fact, as you move through your career, you will realize that your peers will be able to help you identify great career opportunities and connections as they advance in their professional trajectory. Do not miss out on this valuable chance to build meaningful relationships.

5. Lack of Networking

Initially, you might have a tendency to stay at your desk and only work with your direct team. By not venturing out, you miss out on big opportunities to meet other potential mentors and expand your network.

Reach out to other people in the company to grab lunch or coffee. You can learn so much from other managers working on different teams and branches within the same company. Once you leave the company and internship program, these relationships will be connections that you can take with you and cultivate as you move further in your career.

Internships can be challenging to navigate. Avoiding these five mistakes will help you take control of your internship experience and get the most out of your program.

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