Common Intern Mistakes

While you may arrive on the first day of your internship with a positive attitude and enthusiasm for the job, you can just as easily fall into some common intern mistakes. After all, this could be your first foray into the workforce, and you may not be aware of office etiquette or common practices. There are a few of these mistakes that just about any intern could make:

Forgetting the dress code.

Even before you start work, you should ask about dress code. Since most people judge a new employee by how they look, it is very important to keep your dress professional. For more about dress code, please see the Dress Code and Etiquette section of the website.

It is possible that your office is lax about dress code, and that some of your superiors show up wearing ripped jeans and ratty t-shirts to work. This is especially possible in media and web development jobs. However, unless someone tells you that the dress code they set for you can be bent or broken, stay as close to the middle ground as you can.

For women, dress is a bit more complicated, and many young interns fall into the trap of dressing too provocatively. This could be because all of your "nice" clothes are the ones that you wear to the bar or club on the weekends. A good rule of thumb is, if you look bar-ready, you probably are not office ready. Be careful not to show too much skin, even if you’re wearing Dolce & Gabana.

"Informalizing" everyone.

For the late teen to early twenties intern, having to address people formally, whether in person or in an email, is likely something new. However, you’re sure to come into contact with people from every generation. Take your cues from them about formality. If they say you can use their first name, make sure that you always use it; don’t shorten or give nicknames. This goes for all communication. Shorthand and smileys are fine for texts to your friends, but they have no place in a professional email.

Shying away.

Interns are in a precarious situation, where they need to be seen but not too seen, industrious but not annoying. However, a huge mistake that many interns make is being too shy, and not participating fully in the experience. Your office will want to get to know you, so take the time to chat with someone who seems interested in who you are and what you’re doing. If there is a party in the conference room for Judy the office manager’s new baby, be sure to make an appearance and congratulate her. While you want to give the impression that you are there to work, you don’t want to give anyone the impression that you are above a little socializing.


You may have been picked for a prestigious internship because of your excellent grades and extra-curricular activities, but you’ll keep it because you learn how to be a team player and accept criticism. Getting an A in accounting doesn’t always qualify you to jump into an accounting office and know everything about its workings. Interns must have humility and accept criticism: no one is expecting you to be an expert at everything on your first day. Find the middle ground, and stay confident about tasks that you are experienced it, while being willing to ask questions and learn from your superiors on others. If you give your supervisor the impression that you can’t accept suggestions or criticism, she may not call on you to perform more complicated tasks.

Keeping these common mistakes in mind will help you avoid them as you move forward through the summer, and may even help you land a job at the end of your internship.


Turning Internships into Careers