The Three Biggest Mistakes People Make on Internships

three huge internship mistakes

An internship is your best chance to make the right impression on employers – so then why do so many mess it up?

An internship is your performance platform.

You are on stage, sometimes with a script you need to execute on, while other times you are challenged to think creatively and react instinctively to your surroundings.

Your audience is the full-time staff around you – Hiring Managers, Coordinators, Directors, Executives – they will all watch you perform, whether you realize it or not, because you are a potential asset for their organizations future.

When it comes time to hire full-time employees, those in charge go through their mental intern database first, because there is security in hiring a candidate you’ve already seen perform over bringing in someone from the outside with just a resume and a smile.

“It’s a benefit for us to hire an intern because we already know their qualifications and how well they do their job,” says Katie Gambill, Vice-President/General Manager of 5-Star Radio in Clarksville, Tennessee. “We also already have a feel for how well they blend with the rest of the team.”

So then why do so many people mess up their internship opportunity?

Many times interns don’t even realize they are blowing it, too often focused on non-essential things. If you want to make the impression that can land you full-time work (and isn’t that the goal?) make sure these are not in your performance repertoire:

Burdened By Pride

Have you ever heard of Alex Anthopolous?

He’s the General Manager of the Toronto Blue Jays, a highly paid and respected executive, who built his career on an unpaid internship.

the importance of internships

Toronto Blue Jays General Manager Alex Anthopolous began his career as an unpaid intern in the mail room of the Montreal Expos. He quickly learned humility is the most important indicator of success.

Anthopolous had a degree in Economics and was running his families heating and ventilation company, but realized after two years it wasn’t his calling. He sent letters to every team in Major League Baseball looking for any opportunity – what he got was an unpaid internship with the Montreal Expos in their mail room answering fan mail.

“The biggest thing I did with the fan mail thing – and I can’t stress this enough – is the importance of humility in anything you do. I walked in, I had a tie, I had a shirt, I dressed right, I sat in the corner, I shut my mouth and my goal was I was going to be the best fan mail guy these guys have ever had or seen.

“The minute you think things should be delivered to you or entitled to you, you’re not going to get very far in life.”

What seems like a very logical opinion and success story, is less often enacted by the majority.  Humility is a rare trait in interns, who often enter the room as if they already know everything.

Being a know-it-all is the quickest way to derail any potential post-internship job opportunities.

Advanced Tip: Many act like a boastful know-it-all to cover up the fact they actually are unprepared, nervous and afraid to be exposed.

Lose the fear and the bravado. Internship coordinators don’t really expect you to know much, they expect you to pay attention, learn and execute when challenged to do so.

Just Going Through the Motions

Intern coordinators don’t expect you to be a Master of their business, how could you be? What they are looking to discover is how manageable you are, how quickly you learn and how hard you work.

The last variable is the most important – how hard do you work.

One of my mentors explained to me early in my career that the most important part of my job was hiring the right people, and to do so you look for a combination of high will and high skill. If a person has one trait, but not the other, always gravitate toward the person with high will.  A candidate with high skill, but low will to succeed, will always tease you with potential that they never reach.

Internships are the best way to prove to your superiors you have a high will to succeed and an unparalleled work ethic.

“When you get an internship, become known as the ‘yes’ person, willing to learn and do everything,” says radio host Shellie Hart.

Attitude is everything during your internship, if you bring it every day people will notice. If you are lazy or unmotivated people will notice that too.

Advanced Tip: Treat your internship like a job, would you show up to a job over-tired, unshaven or in clothes that look like they spent the last week on your floor? I don’t think so.

An Over-Inflated Sense of Worth

The majority of assigned tasks on internships are not the high-level strategic thinking you feel you are primed and ready for based on your years of classroom lecture experience and case study projects.

You are the low person on the totem pole – face that, deal with it, get over it. The good news is, as you prove your ability to complete the menial initial tasks you will be given more.

And that is the point, start out with the attitude that these people don’t know you, don’t respect you, don’t trust you, and you have to earn all of that. If you enter your internship with that attitude no task seems to small, instead it just seems like a bridge to your next more important task.

I once had an intern tell me when given a certain assignment, “Nah, I’m not doing that”.

It was his first day and he thought he was too good for the task. He wanted something more glamorous, more befitting the person he thought he was. He felt on day one he should be out with the reporters in the field covering the news of the day.

He was wrong.

His actions told me everything I needed to know about his prospects as a future employee – he wasn’t a fit, so I wasn’t planning on wasting our time with him over the next 6 months of his internship. That intern was unable to see the opportunity in front of him, and he was told not to come back for day two.

His selfish desire to do something other than his assigned task ended what could have been the opportunity of a lifetime. Had he worked hard, done the task to the best of his ability and thought about how he could help the business rather than himself, he would have made the most of his chance.

Advanced Tip: Don’t ever forget, when you are an intern your job is to do the things you are assigned with vigor.

Final Thought

Even entry level jobs require experience. No longer are managers hiring based purely on potential, they look for skills, attitude, cultural fit and a will to succeed.

Internships provide you the experience needed to harness those traits within you. Make sure you show off the best version of yourself, or you’ll be sorry later.

About Brian Clapp

Brian Clapp has worked in the broadcast media for over 14 years as a writer, editor, producer & news director. After beginning his career in Atlanta at CNN/Sports Illustrated, he switched coasts to Seattle to work at Fox Sports Northwest. In 2010, Brian began pursuing a new found passion on the digital media side, launching a successful website and then taking on the role of Director of Content for &

Recently Brian has become addicted to Google+ and LinkedIn so add him to your circles and make him a contact. No seriously, you should.


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