7 fatal mistakes you should avoid making at your internship

An internship abroad is an exciting, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to earn real-world, professional experience abroad and grow your international network. Don’t blow this chance to launch your career. Here’s what not to do in the workplace as an intern. Consider these fatal internship mistakes and avoid them at all costs at your next internship.


1. A poor attitude

Aside from being violent or explosive, being negative is just about the worst thing you can do at an internship, or any job for that matter. Negative attitudes are toxic and can be easily spread among coworkers, weighing down the entire company culture. Being frustrated is OK, but don’t use those feelings as an excuse to complain or be negative with others. Stay positive and look for solutions instead of making yourself – and others – feel bad.


2. Not making personal connections

One of the most important benefits of an internship experience is the opportunity to network. If you don’t put any effort into making connections with your coworkers and expanding your professional network, you’re missing out on a huge benefit of the internship. That said, it’s intimidating to be “the intern” and introduce yourself to a bunch of older, established professionals you don’t know. That’s why it’s important to always say “yes” to invitations to lunch, dinner, networking events, water cooler conversations…etc. Make it your job to get to know people and express a genuine interest in learning about their lives inside and outside of the office. Don’t talk too much about yourself – listen and ask questions. You’re here to learn.


what not to do in the workplace


3. Being overly needy

Knowing when and how often to ask questions at an internship is tricky territory to navigate. On the one hand, you’re giving up your time to volunteer for a company in exchange for training and feedback. On the other hand, the rest of the office is trying to get work done and meet deadlines – doing what they’re paid to do. You don’t want to prevent them from getting their work done. A good way to avoid asking too many questions is to keep a notebook from day one and take down notes during training and introduction days. Use the notebook as a reference so you don’t need to ask anything you’ve been told before and waste your supervisor’s time. Your supervisor will appreciate that and likely be more forthcoming whenever you have new questions.


4. Not speaking up

On the flip side, if you don’t ask enough questions or express concerns or doubts, you may make mistakes that could have been avoided and simply not learn the right way to complete your work. If you need to know something, assert yourself and find an appropriate time and place to ask. Make it quick and professional, but speak up. It’s better than the alternative – not asking and doing it wrong and possibly causing a butterfly effect of negative consequences.


5. Taking on too much

Interns oftentimes come into their temporary positions with big aspirations about what they hope to accomplish in the coming weeks. However, what’s more important than getting tons of work done is learning how to do the work right and mastering your duties. So be realistic about what you can handle, both with your boss and with yourself. Be patient and recognize the instances when you need to say “no” to a task.


what not to do in the workplace


6. Promising deadlines you don’t know if you can make

Time management takes, well, time to learn. If you’re not sure that you can get a task done in the allotted time, say something. It’s worse to make a commitment you can’t keep. Understand that as you learn, you work more slowly and that’s OK. Doing it right is more important than doing it quickly.


7. Underdressing

Don’t be a sloppy dresser at the office. As an intern you’re already the least experienced and likely youngest person at the office. If you’re dressing like a college student, it will be even harder to earn the respect of your colleagues. Understand that how you dress will affect how others view you and your competence. Look to your boss or other high-ranking employees for inspiration.



Now you know what NOT to do as an intern, apply now to boost your career by doing all the right things at your international internship!


Photo 1. based on Shannon, May 28, 2011, by Pat Pilon, CC-by-2.0

Photo 2. based on 278/365 – Hey Guys Hey Guys Hey Guys, by Helga Weber, CC-by-2.0

Photo 3. based on Deadline !, by Craig Sunter, CC-by-ND 2.0


The International Internships Blog is a collaboration by The Intern Group staff, alumni and current participants to give you career advice & tips, program information, & so much more!

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Elizabeth Trovall

After short stints in Argentina and Belize, Elizabeth is finishing up her fourth year in Santiago, Chile. Elizabeth writes about international internships, life abroad and professional development for The Intern Group. She also reports on politics, business and culture in Latin America for public radio and print media. An Austin, Texas native, Elizabeth first left home to earn her journalism degree from the Reynolds Institute of Journalism at the University of Missouri. Besides her friends and family, she misses live music and Mexican food the most.

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