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 sophomore 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 junior 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 junior at 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 junior 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.