- REUTERS/Chris Helgren
Those who work in media cross paths with a lot of interns.
Business Insider, for example, has an extensive internship program, which not only gives burgeoning reporters job experience and guidance but also provides editors and reporters with the experience of managing people.
To help readers glean lessons on what not to do as they begin their own internships this summer, I asked my colleagues who have managed or worked with (or as) interns about the worst mistakes they have seen interns make (or made themselves) at Business Insider and beyond.
Their stories don’t disappoint. Here’s what my coworkers had to share:
- Garry Knight/Flickr
“I had an intern a couple of jobs ago who told us on his first day that he was psychic and could predict our requests, and then he made us sit down to listen to his divination podcast.”
“I had an intern request a meeting, and they had a prepared a long list of complaints and grievances.
“I understand that sometimes things do not work out exactly as you expect. But this is the worst way to handle it. If you are struggling early on, go to your manager with a list of questions, not complaints. It is way too early to become a problem employee. And looking for the problems will only keep you from seeing the opportunities.”
“I once worked at a magazine where another intern committed a cardinal sin of journalism: She didn’t understand the difference between transcribing an interview and paraphrasing it. Her script butchered the source’s quotes and nearly got the writer in loads of trouble. So, whether you work in media, finance, or law, you may be asked to transcribe something someday. Ask how the person likes it prepared.”
Not taking initiative
“The biggest mistake interns make is not taking initiative. Some interns treat the fact that they’re an intern as permission to sit back and wait for things to happen – like in grade school, when our only job as students was to sit and be taught.
“One of the things I love about Business Insider is that we’re encouraged to make our careers. Interns should embrace that ideal and be proactive every day.”
Using the office as a crash pad
“The biggest mistake I saw was an intern sleeping at the office overnight. They went out and got drunk and then came back to the office, maybe to pick up their things, and ended up falling asleep drunk on the couch in the reception area. Someone who had the night shift saw them, took a photo, and sent it to me.
“We spoke to the intern later and explained that the office is not a place to bunk at night or on weekends, and it’s especially never a good idea to come back to the office after a night of drinking, because what good can come of that?”
Not understanding boundaries
“I had an intern at my old job who seemed totally normal and competent enough in her interview but ended up being the actual worst. Not only was she rude a lot of the time – thinking that standard intern tasks, like producing articles in our CMS and writing out product credits, were beneath her. She once went over my and my coworkers’ head and emailed the CEO about some ideas she had for the company. She had no sense of boundaries and displayed very little respect for her managers.”
Leaving for another internship
“I once had an intern who quit a month into the internship to take another internship. So basically I spent many hours training her, checking in with her, making sure she was doing things she was interested in – and then she left us high and dry, having to look for a new intern in the middle of the season. This is a great way to irreparably burn a bridge, something that should be avoided, especially at the beginning of your career.”
Working for free
“I’d say one big mistake that I made once back in my interning days was taking an unpaid internship.
“I thought it would be fine since I was supporting myself with another job working in restaurants and gaining experience for a career change. It started out great, but at one point during that time I had a health issue and was barely able to report to the job that paid my rent and expenses. (I was uninsured at the time, too. This was before people could stay on their parents’ insurance until they were 26.) I had to bail on my unpaid gig since it just didn’t make sense to keep spending all that time and energy working for free.
“They were OK with it, and probably would have given me follow-up recommendations if I’d asked, but I ended up resenting the experience because I felt like my work had been exploited, so I never asked. I later found another gig that didn’t pay a lot, but still something, which meant I could at least cut back a few work hours elsewhere.
“It’s a mistake to let your work be undervalued.”
- Cannabis Culture/flickr
“I was interning at a magazine many years ago, and one of my co-interns would always arrive late, go back to her apartment to take a nap when asked to run errands for the editors we were supporting, and wear clothes with marijuana leaves all over them. It’s a wonder this girl didn’t get fired.
“It’s not commendable, but I’m sure a lot of interns come in late to work, slack off on errands, and don’t treat their internship like a job (which is not OK). But wearing marijuana-adorned clothes to work is dumb.
“What you wear to the office is a direct reflection of how you want your coworkers and supervisors to perceive you, and you definitely won’t be making a positive professional impression with inappropriate clothes. Just keep it clean and modest.”
“There was a fantastic intern who was great the whole time they were with us, up until the last moment when they sabotaged themselves.
“This intern left a few weeks earlier than the internship was set to end, which would have been fine. They sent a late-night email that they had to take some time for a personal reason, which, again, is fine. However, they didn’t specify whether they’d be returning.
“I gave them a few days to deal with said personal issue and then reached out to find out if they were coming back. My emails were ignored until only days before the internship was meant to end, when they said they hadn’t had email access to answer my inquiries. That was a little hard to believe, given their Instagrams I’d easily Googled and seen from the period they were out – and wouldn’t, in fact, be returning. I wish the person had specified their departure plans up front so we could rearrange our workflow instead of putting everything on hold waiting to hear.
“The truth is that we can’t make someone stay. If the intern had just said, ‘I don’t want to do this anymore. Thanks for your time. I won’t be returning,’ it would have saved me weeks of uncertainty and confusion.”
Not paying attention to details
“I had an intern who sent me a daily email misspelling my name. I would write back signing the email with my real name, but she never got it.”
Taking a vacation
“The biggest mistake for interns is to take a two-week vacation in the middle of their internship when they are dying to be hired for a job.”
Laziness and disrespect
“I once worked with an intern who did almost everything interns are told not to do.
“Not only did she dress very inappropriately (she exposed a lot of skin), but she’d stroll in late, spend most of the day texting, going out for long lunches, shopping, and basically doing anything BUT work. And she complained about everything – her commute, the smell of NYC in the summer, her computer being slow.
“She was lazy and obnoxious, and it was frustrating to think that she took up a highly coveted intern position at a big media company that someone much more deserving – and motivated – could have filled.
“One time I noticed she was scrolling through Facebook, and I ask for her assistance with something. Her response, ‘Is there anyone else you could ask right now? I’m slammed.’ I had to stop myself from laughing out loud. Was she serious?!
“The worst part of all: She was related to an executive at the company, so nobody was really willing to say or do anything about the situation.”
Not keeping it professional
“The worst thing an intern can do is to not treat the internship like the professional opportunity that it is. This includes showing up late, or not at all, missing deadlines or being lazy, and seeming uninterested in being here. Another terrible mistake that makes you look unprofessional is oversharing – interns should not be telling their boss about their crazy night at the bar.
“Acting like you’re entitled to the internship can include dressing inappropriately, taking two-hour lunch breaks, and going a bit far in taking advantage of things like free beer in the fridge by cracking one open at your desk, early, every day. Just because it’s there and it’s free does not mean you need to take advantage all the time. To be clear: your boss will notice these things and will not be happy about them.
“While not every internship is exciting all the time, the goal should at least be to make some helpful professional connections for future recommendations. When interns don’t even have a voice in their heads telling them to impress their boss with the basics, they usually don’t end up working here in the long run.”
“The first intern I ever managed was a real trip. He pushed back on, or even rejected, the stories I assigned him, even calling them ‘not worth covering.’ He often didn’t respond to my emails or IMs, so I would have to walk over to his desk and ask if he had seen them. He usually had, but had ‘forgotten’ to respond … to his manager. I had to send him the ‘Are you alive?’ email more than once when he didn’t show up for work without notice.”