Whether you’ve landed the internship of a lifetime or you’re less than thrilled about your unpaid nine-to-five, you want to show off your best attitude and work ethic at all times. According to Rochelle Sharit, a career advisor at a New England university known for its impressive internship program, you should consider your internship a three-month-long interview. Your performance during the internship determines whether or not the company will hire you or give you that coveted letter of recommendation; so, as you would in any interview, watch what you say! Seem a bit daunting? As long as you avoid blurting out these seven career-killing statements, you’ll be in the clear!
1. “I’m bored.”
Imagine you’re trapped in an office on a sunny summer day, staring at your computer screen or notepad, waiting for someone to give you something—anything—to do. It’s not what you signed up for when you agreed to the internship, but unfortunately, it can happen. “That’s not an unusual situation,” Sharit says. “Sometimes the managers get so busy that they don’t necessarily assign enough work to an intern.” So the boredom begins.
Meredith, a student at Skidmore College, faced this exact problem at her internship at an ad agency. “On my very first day, I showed up and they told me that Mondays were slow,” she says. “I spent the day on Twitter and Snapchat!”
While a social media-filled first day doesn’t exactly bode well for an internship (neither does a social media-filled twentieth day, for that matter), you should never, ever say that you’re bored. Why? Because there’s always something to be done! Sharit advises, “As an intern, you need to show initiative and ask for additional projects if you’re done with what you’ve already been asked to do.” If you, like Meredith, find early on that you don’t have many assignments yet, Sharit suggests researching other departments in the company or the industry itself so that you can get a more competitive edge.
2. “Why aren’t I getting paid?”
Sure, you’re not pleased that you’re sticking to a strict ramen noodle diet. No, you aren’t a fan of never finding a paycheck in your mailbox. But should you complain about it? Absolutely not!
“If you’ve accepted an unpaid internship, then you’ve already agreed to those terms and you shouldn’t revisit the issue,” says Sharit. Voicing this question in the office is like wearing a bright t-shirt that says, “I don’t want to be here!” That’s not an attitude that any supervisor wants to see, and it’s completely unprofessional.
Rather than focusing on what you aren’t getting out of the internship, try focusing on what you are getting out of it. “Your goal is to get valuable experience, to develop a network in the company, to learn about the company and the field you’re in, and in the end, get excellent references,” Sharit reminds us. “If you can get all of that, then that’s really better than money because it will help you get a job.” Think of your unpaid internship as an investment in a future paycheck for a job you know you’ll love!
3. “I’m only doing this so I can put it on my resume.”
It’s not crazy to want to pad your resume. In today’s world, we competitive collegiettes always seem to be comparing our past experiences and piling on the internships and extracurricular activities until we barely have time to breathe. Hilary*, a George Washington University collegiette who interned at an NGO this past semester, reveals: “Honestly, I didn’t do my internship because I wanted to learn that much from the organization. I did it because I knew other employers would like that I’d worked there.”
Even if you did accept your summer internship just to add another line to your resume, you shouldn’t show it. Becca, a collegiette from Skidmore College and a Career Coach at the school’s Career Development Center, urges interns not to advertise any such less-than-noble intentions in the office. “You never know how you will feel about this company in four months or next year,” she says. “Maybe you’ll warm up to it, or there will be positions in other departments that interest you more.” Don’t burn your bridges before you have the chance to reevaluate!
Even if you show a positive attitude in front of your supervisor, you shouldn’t say anything like this to a fellow intern, either. “Anything that you say to a peer can be repeated,” reveals Sharit. “The bottom line is there is a lot of gossip that goes on in organizations.” Don’t feed the rumor mill. Stay positive and engaged every time you enter the office. Who knows? If you really have to pretend to be positive, you might find that after a while the feeling will grow on you!
4. “It doesn’t matter how well I do it, as long as it gets done.”
Whether you were considering saying this to your peer or your supervisor, you should probably rethink your approach (and your work ethic in general). You should bring your A-game when approaching any project, no matter how insignificant it may seem to you at first.
“I would show up and they would only give me little assignments,” explains Sarah*, a student at Tufts University who interned at a public health organization. “It didn’t seem like they really cared how much thought I put into it, as long as I did it right. But I never said that. I put the same level of effort into the little stuff as I would have into big projects.”
According to Sharit, Sarah had the right mindset. “Quality work is the key,” she confirms. “Sometimes you don’t necessarily know what it means to do something well, and it’s important to understand what the expectations are and to meet or exceed those expectations.”
Ask questions like, “How would you prefer that I approach this assignment?” or, “What would you like the finished product to look like?” If you give off the vibe that you aren’t trying very hard, your supervisor will catch on, and he or she will wonder if another applicant might have deserved the internship more.
5. “I didn’t have to get coffee/print copies/file paperwork at my last internship.”
Whatever you did or didn’t do at your last internship is no longer important. What matters is the internship that you’re currently doing, and that you do it well. Comparing the two or even disparaging one in front of your peers or supervisors will only make you seem whiny and ungrateful, and it definitely won’t earn you any higher-level projects or responsibilities down the road.
“You’re an intern, so there [are] going to be things that people will expect you to do that perhaps the managers are not doing. But in general, at most places, people all pitch in,” Sharit explains. “You shouldn’t really feel like there’s anything below you.”
If, however, fetching coffee is all that you’re doing, you can take some steps to ensure that you get more out of the internship. “I think that it’s important that you take initiative and try to find a way to make the internship more of a learning experience,” suggests Sharit. Do more research on the company or on ways that you can help it grow. Does it use social media? If not, and if you possess that skill set, Sharit says it might be a good idea to politely offer your services.
If at the end of the day your internship doesn’t turn out to be all that you hoped it would be, don’t stress! At the very least you’ll learn what you like and what you don’t, and you can leave with a letter of recommendation that will help you find bigger and better things.
6. “[Insert co-worker’s name here] doesn’t know what she’s doing.”
Julia, a collegiette at Boston University who interned for a wedding photographer, pulled more than her fair share of the weight during her internship. “The other intern I was working with had no idea what he was doing,” she says. “He was good enough to get hired, but I still had to teach him so much on my own so that we didn’t show up with bad pictures at the end of the day. I wanted to tell my boss about it but I never figured out how to phrase it.”
Julia’s problem is a common one. Sometimes you might find yourself working with someone who doesn’t seem to have the skill set he or she needed to have landed the internship. Maybe he or she is a fast learner in whom your boss has confidence. Maybe he or she got hired because of an inside connection. Whatever the case, Becca advises against drawing attention to it.
“No matter how good you are at your job, you will come across as petty and arrogant,” she says. “Instead of complaining about her poor performance, offer some constructive advice—carefully! Try: ‘I completed a project like that at my last internship. Let me know if you want some tips; no reason to reinvent the wheel!’”
Sharit suggests following the golden rule: if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. Instead, find positive things to say about your peers. “It shows a real leader, someone who’s able to be able to acknowledge other people’s strengths, other people’s accomplishments, and I think people will really respect and notice that,” she says. Besides, your boss will realize if you’re awesome at your job and your co-worker isn’t. There’s no need for you to say anything at all!
7. “Last night I was so drunk that I...”
Before you fill in that blank, think again about what you’re sharing—or, more aptly, over-sharing. And then don’t do it.
“You never know how other people are going to perceive it,” Sharit says. “You might work in an environment where there’s no judgment about that. You will see, but it’s better to be safe and keep those kinds of comments to yourself.”
Stray away from touchy topics like your sex life and your partying, and, whatever you do, don’t ever mention that you’re hungover. Your boss wants to feel like you’re working hard, not counting the minutes until you can pop another Advil! But be careful not to close yourself off completely. “It’s not as though you don’t want to bring your personal life at all into the workplace, because that’s somewhat expected,” adds Sharit. “If you were to go to work and not share some personal information, people might see you as very aloof and unfriendly.”
So what can you share? Becca says that “stories about traveling, your cousin’s wedding, and your pets are usually fair game. You know the way you talk to your boyfriend’s parents? Talk like that.”
Being a star intern is about more than respect for deadlines and perfect grammar. It’s also about your attitude, and the number one way to get that across is by talking like you take your position seriously (which, hopefully, you do!). Keep these seven wince-worthy statements out of your office talk and stay positive—your professionalism will pay off!
*Names have been changed.