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7 Signs You’re Slacking Off at Your Internship

Congrats! You’ve gotten through the hard part: actually finding an internship. But the work doesn’t stop once you’ve gotten the job. And yes, it is a job, even if you’re only getting paid in credits or experience. There’s nothing more frustrating to an internship supervisor (or your fellow interns) than seeing someone who isn’t quite pulling her weight. Here are a few signs that that slacking intern might be you.

1. Showing up late

It’s one thing if there’s traffic or your train is late once or twice, but entirely another if you’re consistently showing up to work late. Even if all you’re earning for this internship is credit―or experience―it’s still a job and the impression you’re making matters. The same thing goes for taking those extra-long lunch breaks or failing to dress for the job.

The thing is, you’re trying to show that you’re a reliable employee. Carol Spector, Director of Career Services at Emerson College, stresses, “An internship, whether paid or not, is still an opportunity to gain skills and experience and a person should take it seriously.” On top of that, “An internship is not a very long time period,” she says. You only have a few months to make a good impression. And yes, that includes showing up on time, or even just a little bit early. That might mean skipping your morning Starbucks run or setting your alarm 30 minutes earlier, but your supervisor will love to see you at your desk and ready to work before anyone else gets into the office.

2. Chatting with the other interns more than you’re doing your work

It’s great that you’re getting along with your coworkers! After all, work can be a social place. But if you’re spending all of your time chatting with the other interns and letting work fall by the wayside, it can send the message to your employer that your priorities aren’t right. And sure, we’ve all been at a job where being able to talk and gossip is the only thing that gets you through the day. Even if you’re not loving your internship, the benefits of throwing yourself into it whole-heartedly far outweigh the costs.

Spector encourages interns to “take a look at what is going on and realistically think about how they are being perceived. They may need to take themselves out of the situation and see it from the supervisor’s view.” Talking may make the day go faster, but what does it say to your boss? Do your best to cut back on the chit-chat. And if the other interns won’t quit, see if there’s another place you can get your work done, or maybe put in some headphones, if that seems appropriate for the workspace. You don’t have to become completely anti-social, but your supervisors will definitely notice if you’re paying less attention to the chatter and more to the work at hand.

Related: 8 Things You Should Never Do at Work

3. Using social media on the job

It can be tempting to just check Facebook or Instagram between projects or as a reward for getting work done. Just because you’re at work doesn’t mean the world stops moving and it can feel like it’s important to keep up. But, according to Mara Hyman, internship supervisor and marketing professional, seeing an intern on his or her personal social media during work hours is a major red flag. “Even if you’re churning out quality work, if someone passes by your desk and sees you on Facebook, it can definitely give off the impression that you’re slacking,” Hyman says.

The fix for this one is easy. Just keep your phone in your purse or in a drawer and consider downloading an app like SelfControl for your laptop if you need a little extra help staying away from distractions.

4. Doing your homework on company time

If your internship falls during the school year, it can be tempting to use some of your downtime to get a little homework done. After all, just because you’re working doesn’t mean your professors stop giving you assignments. But just like spending time on social media, homework takes your attention away from your internship, which, during office hours, should be your primary focus. And if you have time to be doing homework, then you’re probably not making the most of that experience.

Still, balancing school and work can be a battle, especially during finals and midterms. If you’re having trouble keeping up with homework, look into whether your school offers resources on time management. Consider using a planner to block out your time more specifically (instead of just hoping you’ll get it all done “sometime over the weekend”). And if you’ve really over-committed yourself, it might be time to cut back on those internship hours.

5. Not getting to know your superiors

Networking is a huge part of why internships are useful. Your supervisors want to help you learn about the company or the field! But if you’re keeping to yourself (or strictly socializing with the other interns), it sends the message that you just aren’t that interested in learning. Is that slacking? Well, it definitely isn’t taking advantage of all the opportunities you have and it shows your superiors that you’re probably just there to gain a line on your resume.

If you’ve been slacking off up until now, it might be awkward to suddenly approach your boss. Spector says, “It is not impossible to win back your supervisor’s regard, but you need to do it quickly. You should have a conversation with your boss and be honest and accept responsibility for your lack of performance.” It all comes down to showing that you’re willing to turn things around. Now, this can be a hard one if you’re shy, but striking up a conversation with your superiors goes a long way to helping out future you. One day you might need a recommendation letter or even a job! Take the steps to lay that foundation now and show that you’re going to work harder. Who knows? Your boss might even have some great advice for you.

6. Sloppy work

According to Spector, not paying attention to detail is another huge red flag. A few small errors in an email or report might seem like tiny mistakes to you, but to an internship supervisor, those spelling and grammatical issues demonstrate that you aren’t bothering to put in the time or effort to proofread, so you probably don’t really care. That might not actually be the case, but this is another area where it’s easy to make a bad impression, even if the work you’re turning out is otherwise great.

This is another easy fix. Take the extra few minutes to proofread and make sure that you’ve gotten everything right. You wouldn’t send in a sloppy cover letter or a resume riddled with mistakes! That shouldn’t stop once you’ve gotten the job.

Related: 10 Totally Unprofessional Things You Should Stop Doing Now

7. Never asking “what’s next?”

In the end, internships are about learning as many things as you can. Supervisors want to see that you’re engaged and interested in what you’re doing. And that can start with asking for a new task once you’ve finished something or even proposing a new project. If you’re constantly waiting to be told what to do, or dragging your feet between assignments, people are going to notice that you aren’t excited about the position. “Seek out what you can learn from each opportunity and do not miss that experience,” says Spector. “You usually learn from each experience even if it is not what you set out to learn.”

Now’s the time to prove that you’re invested in the company or business that you’re working for. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, show that you’re curious, or throw yourself into each new assignment with enthusiasm. As Spector puts it, “Keep your goals in tact and strive ahead!”

Sydney Post is a Los Angeles native who moved east to Boston for college and stayed, despite the snow (or possibly because of it). She holds a BA in English from Tufts University and an MFA in Creative Writing from Emerson College. When not writing, reading, or generally spending time around books, she can be found working on her cooking skills, being excited about dogs, and generally doing her best to be an adult.
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