- Cieon Movies/YouTube
Landing an internship is exciting. The experience can be the big gateway to your first professional position.
“But there are some pitfalls to avoid in how you communicate during this new opportunity,” says Lynn Taylor, a national workplace expert and the author of “Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant: How to Manage Childish Boss Behavior and Thrive in Your Job.”
“You can easily slip up because this is unfamiliar territory, you’re new to the workforce, you may try to over-impress, perhaps you’re nervous, and, you’re human.”
Aside from the obvious words, questions, and phrases you should always avoid at work (profanities, insults, overly personal queries, etc.), here are some things you should never say or ask as an intern:
‘I don’t think this was in the job description’
“Not all tasks fit neatly into your job description; in fact, having ancillary skills can benefit you greatly,” Taylor says. “Of course if you’ve been asked to deliver coffee to all your office mates as your primary job function, you have reason to speak up. If a project request is within the general realm, however, it’s important to demonstrate a can-do attitude.”
‘When will you make the hiring decision?’
You want to appear confident and focus on doing the best job possible. Don’t pester your hiring manager, or they’ll feel you’re distracted from your work, she warns.
‘No, thanks. I brought my lunch today’
Turning down an opportunity to get lunch and bond with your coworkers or a boss seems standoffish, even if you did pack your lunch that day.
As an intern, you want to establish as many relationships as possible, and having lunch with your colleagues is a great way to do that.
- Flickr/Susan Solinski
Do not complain! And never say you’re bored.
When managers hear this, they question, “Is this person resourceful and motivated?”
“If you find yourself in a lull, offer to help your manager on additional projects,” suggests Taylor. “If you’re getting only tiny tasks at a time, talk to your boss so that you have a prioritized list of both short and long-term assignments.”
‘Can you repeat what you said in the meeting?’
Always carry a notepad when you’re meeting casually in the office, and if the meeting is formal, consider a tablet or laptop, says Taylor.
“Your boss in particular, is very likely going to bring up helpful information at unexpected times. If you don’t commit it to writing, you may frustrate yourself (and your manager) later. Try to maintain some level of eye contact when note taking.”
‘I’m sorry to be a bother’
And, Business Insider’s Rachel Gillett writes, if you are truly sorry about something you haven’t done yet, why would you go ahead and do it anyway?
“Excuse me. Do you have a moment?” works much better, Pachter says.
- Colleen Kelly/flickr
‘Since this is an internship/I’m not paid, can I take a little extra time off?’ or, ‘I’m going to head out early’
“Take the internship seriously if you want to be seriously considered for the position,” Taylor says. “Your dedication and work ethic are being evaluated during this interim period. Even if you don’t end up working for the company, you want put your best foot forward and have excellent references. Your reputation walks with you.”
‘Hey man/dude/ladies, what up?’
Don’t use inappropriate or overly informal office language.
“Be mindful of using a lot of slang or catchy but annoying phrases; your vocabulary counts,” says Taylor. “Think professional and watch how others communicate, in both verbal and written form.”
‘You are the most amazing manager ever!’
There’s nothing wrong with occasional, genuine flattery given to your boss or colleagues. But in your zeal to parlay this into a full-time position, don’t go overboard, or it could make you look desperate, she says.
- YouTube/kareem kh90
‘I have the worst hangover’
“This might make for very interesting water cooler chatter, but you don’t want to be at the center of that,” says Taylor. “As you attempt to bond with your coworkers, never feel you must divulge your entire personal life – and avoid using it as a platform to vent.”
‘I can’t figure this out’ or ‘We have a huge problem and I don’t know what to do’
Nobody is expected to have all the answers, but before you go running for help (unless the problem really is that serious, and you know you shouldn’t be making any decisions or getting involved) try to come up with a solution on your own.
“You may feel like the walls just caved in because you’re facing a new problem each day (or hour!) but every problem has a solution at work, so you’ll be expected to have one ready rather than set off fire alarms,” Taylor explains. “By doing your homework, managing up, and being a problem-solver, you’ll mitigate stress for your boss – a major tool for career success.”
‘I’d actually like to try this my way’
Everyone loves new ideas, but just make sure that your approach has merit.” You can always ask first if the manager is interested in how you handled the assignment differently before. Just make sure you’re not dismissive … and use a lot of diplomacy,” she says.
‘Just gotta send this text real quick’
Put the phone away. And if it’s out, don’t draw attention to it by talking about the texts you’re sending.
“That might be okay with your peers over lunch, or if you have an emergency, but not if your boss or colleagues are sharing important information with you and you feel the urge to text your best buddy,” Taylor says.
‘Wow. How do I get your job?!’
“Clever, well-placed humor will be an asset in your job. But don’t be too flip or take chances with potentially offensive teasing or joking,” she says. “And you want to avoid appearing too aggressive.”
‘Did you hear … ?’ or ‘I heard … ‘ or ‘I once worked at X company, and … ‘
You don’t want to come off as a gossip. Avoid asking about – or spreading – rumors about the company, your new colleagues, or any previous employers.
- Flickr / Marco Arment
‘Okay, what should I do next?’
Yes, you want to make sure you’re checking in with your boss regularly and working on project they need your help with, but don’t be annoying and ask, “What’s next?” every 20 minutes.
“Be as resourceful as you can,” Taylor suggests. Look around and figure out how you can help and then offer it.
‘Mainly, I’m doing this for my résumé/references’
Watch out! Of course an internship will be good for both, but if you start banter like that in the office, the word can spread, Taylor says. “You may appear half-hearted and potentially disloyal.”
‘I got this job because of an inside connection’
Yes, that may be true … but you probably don’t want to walk around advertising that fact.
Also, it’s especially important that you act professionally if someone from within the company recommended you for the job. You wouldn’t want to embarrass yourself and someone else – and you certainly wouldn’t want to put their job, or reputation, on the line.
‘Can I work on X project instead of this?’
“It’s one thing to finish all your projects and ask for more, where you think you could excel,” she says. “But it’s presumptive to redirect your manager’s priorities, and shows a lack of commitment.”
‘I hate … ‘ or, ‘It’s so annoying when … ‘
Again, you don’t want to be known as a Negative Nancy or a complainer.
Business Insider’s Emmie Martin wrote in a previous article that insults “have no place in the office, especially when directed at a specific person or company practice.”
This is especially true for interns trying to launch their career.
‘How much would I get paid if I landed a job here?’
No, no, no. This is not the time to discuss salary.
Also, never ask your colleagues about their pay. It’s unprofessional and awkward.
“While it’s important to stay aware of these classic verbal pitfalls, don’t beat yourself up over something embarrassing that you said out of innocence,” Taylor says. “You can go to the other extreme and become too fearful of misspeaking. Every manager started out in an entry level position, and unless you’re tripping over yourself 24/7, they will be somewhat forgiving.”
At the same time, managers are placing scrutiny on your performance during your internship, she says. “That includes the way in which you communicate, so it’s helpful to avert any classic minefields.”