11 mistakes interns make during their first internship

Nobody's perfect. These are the most common mistakes interns make during their first work experience. Lucky for you, we tell you how to avoid them.
Brenda Wong
Brenda Wong

Shoes on, shirt buttoned, Oyster card at the ready.

Today’s the first day of your city internship, and you probably feel like you’re ready to conquer the world. Next stop, partner!

Not so fast, speedy. You have a long way to go before your very own glass door office. Take it from us certified adults who’ve been there, done that, and thankfully survived the new-joiner-office-hazing.

We’ll tell you the worst mistakes interns make and have you navigating your very first internship without looking like a Mr T-level fool, promise.

1. Dressing completely inappropriately for the office

mistakes interns make

You know what’s really surprising? There is definitely such a thing as too formal. 

Always ask about the office dress code before your first day to suss out what you should wear. You only get one chance at making a first impression  after all.

2. Not asking where the important facilities are

mistakes interns make

Needing a wee is totally natural. Awkwardly getting lost in a huge office building looking for the loo however is probably not the best way to impress.

Asking for a brief tour of the office and the facilities will save you from this. While you’re at it you can totally get someone to teach you how to use the coffee machines – those beasts are tricky.

3. Forgetting the name of the teammate you’re supposed to be working with… for the third time

mistakes interns make

The second most important person you need to impress (the first being your line manager), is your fellow teammate/intern. Showing that you care about your peers and getting to know them better will show that you pay great attention to the rapport you have with your fellow colleagues.

When you meet someone for the first time, try using their name in a sentence within the first five minutes. That usually helps to solidify their name in your memory.

4. Looking disrespectful by not offering to get tea/coffee for the team

mistakes interns make

Yo. Even if that’s not what your company’s culture is like, always ask. Showing courtesy to your team is you figuratively putting the cherry on top of the cake: you’ll come across as great at your job, and friendly, to boot.

You don’t even have to ask all the time. If you’re making some tea/coffee/other beverage for yourself, just ask your line manager whether he/she/they want one too. It won’t hurt, promise.

5. Sitting at the desk twiddling your thumbs when there are no more tasks to do

mistakes interns make

We get it. Sometimes interns just don’t get that much to do from their line managers. This can be for various reasons ranging from your line manager being too busy, or perhaps they are inexperienced in managing someone else and doesn’t know what exactly they can delegate.

6. Completely misunderstanding hierarchy and boundaries

mistakes interns make

It is not a good idea to add your boss on Facebook – at least not straightaway. No matter how chummy you get with your line manager, maintain your those boundaries until the end of your internship. It is a sign you have professional integrity, which is a very attractive and employable trait.

7. Getting too drunk at the first networking drinks

mistakes interns make

Speaking of getting a little bit too chummy, it’s probably not a good idea to go H.A.M. at your first ever networking drinks, no matter how much your team mates want you to. Definitely join in the fun, but temper your drinks with pints of water to maintain a good, sober level. You don’t want to be the person they talk about after the office Christmas party, after all.

8. Using the wrong spelling of a client’s first name in an email

mistakes interns make

The devil’s in the details. The devil is also your line manager when they realise you may have messed an important email up. Business emails are make or break for your company, and sometimes, small mistakes can have big consequences.

Always proof-read your emails before you send them, and if you’re ever unsure, ask your line manager before you click the ‘send’ button.

9. Sitting there quietly panicking because you don’t know how to use a program

mistakes interns make

It’s OK not to know how to do a pivot table on Microsoft Excel if you haven’t been taught. If your line manager is too busy to teach you, look around to see if there’s anyone else who can.

Make sure you give them time to finish up on whatever they’re doing and emphasise you’re not rushing them. The best part about asking for help is that you end up learning something new!

10. Not asking for feedback after the internship is over

mistakes interns make

So you’ve smashed your internship and you’re on your last day, celebrating a successful few weeks at a great company. The work doesn’t stop there though.

Make sure you grab a couple of email addresses from the people you worked with the most, and follow-up with them asking for a bit of feedback a few weeks later. They will be able to give you honest, objective observations about the way you work, and you can take that constructive criticism away with you to your next opportunity.

P.S. Plying ex teammates with a coffee definitely won’t hurt.

11. Agreeing to work as an unpaid intern

mistakes interns make

Trust us on this one. No matter how good an opportunity looks, no matter how big the company is, your work is worth something. A company isn’t worth working for if they treat the newest members of their team like they are disposable, so go for companies that do pay, and pay a living wage.

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