Are You Blowing it as an Intern?

Congratulations, you did it! You landed the internship that you’d been hoping for. The one that’s going to set you up for your future career success. The one that’s going to help you build up your resume.

Now all you have to do is be awesome. Sounds easy enough, right? Read on to learn three surprising ways you may be blowing it…without knowing it.

FindSpark Interns

Photo courtesy of Maryland GovPics

Doing exactly what’s asked of you

I know what you’re thinking…doing exactly what’s asked of you seems like a great way to stand out, not fall flat.

False. Plenty of interns take direction well, especially if it’s a simple task that you’re being given. The trouble lies in the unwritten, which is doing what’s asked of you, and nothing more. That’s the fastest way to be forgotten once you leave.

Instead, try this: once you are given a task put yourself in your manager’s shoes and understand the importance and end goal of your task. Are you helping to prepare slides for a meeting? Are you helping to combine research for a client presentation?

Whatever the task might be, chances are there’s something more than can be done. Coordinate with other interns to ensure the formatting is consistent in your slides. Put together a summary for your manager of the research you’ve done. Try to anticipate the next step your manager will take once you turn in your work and take a first stab at doing it yourself.

Even if you make some mistakes, taking that extra time to go above and beyond will take you from an average intern to an amazing one.

Getting too comfortable too soon

Again you may be thinking, “Wait a minute, doesn’t getting comfortable mean you are embracing the company culture?” Not quite.

Don’t forget that your internship is, in essence, an audition for a full time role. Or at least a stellar recommendation to help you land your next opportunity. And regardless of how laid back the company culture is, getting too comfortable when it comes to dress, hours, or being loose-lipped and complaining with your co-workers can definitely make you stand out in the wrong way.

My old CEO once said, “Treat every day of your first 6 months as if it’s your first day of work,” and the reality is that most internships don’t last that long. So while it’s fine to show your personality and get to know your co-workers, always keep in mind that your tenure for the moment is temporary and it can be very difficult to change a negative impression. Err on the side of being more formal to avoid that risk. The CEO is there for the long term; just because he wears flip flops and jeans doesn’t necessarily mean you should too.

Thinking any task is beneath you

This is hopefully the most obvious way to blow it as an intern, but I feel it needs to be said. It’s true that we live in a world where many companies are operating as start-ups and there is no limit to how big of an impact you can leave as an intern. But while you should fully take advantage of those opportunities (see point #1), you should never forget that at the end of the day, you are an intern. You are there to learn and to help the company run more smoothly. Chances are you are also the most junior person on the team, so if a task is beneath you, who should do it?

Don’t forget that big ideas could never get anywhere without someone handling the smaller details. What good is an amazing PR firm if their product closet is a mess because everyone is above cleaning and organizing it? How can a client see your fantastic presentation if nobody books the flights or the conference rooms? And how productive will that late night working session be without the caffeine boost a cup of coffee provides?

So go back to tip #1 and remember that every task – no matter how menial it might seem – has a strategic purpose to it. Challenge yourself to find the greater goal of every task and you’ll be amazed at the impression you will leave.


Whether it’s your first internship or your 15th, these tips can help you go from a standard intern to an outstanding one. Don’t forget to check out the FindSpark job board to help you identify fantastic internship opportunities and put these tips and tricks to work.

Have you been blowing it and not knowing it? Let us know some of your biggest intern “aha” moments in the comments below.

About the Author

Michelle spends her days being Manager, Talent Acquisition at L'Oreal USA, her evenings as a FindSpark speaker and advisory board member and her free time cooking and blogging at

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