The new year is almost upon us, and you know what that means. New year, new opportunities! If you’re vying for an internship, now would be a good time to start applying—but before you send in that application, let’s talk about some common internship mistakes you absolutely should avoid in 2024.
Types of common internship mistakes
Not every mistake is created equal—some could make or break your career, and these are the ones that are best avoided. Of course, making a mistake isn’t always a bad thing. In some instances, you’ll end up learning an important lesson better than you would’ve if you hadn’t made the mistake. But this doesn’t mean that every error will automatically lead to a good outcome—you’ll need to put in some work to turn it into a win.
Internships are not just about developing your hard (or technical) skills; they’re also about personal growth and development. You become a more well-rounded professional by paying attention to your personal and professional development, and your hard and soft skills. Issues arise when we neglect one or the other.
To make it easier to understand the different types of mistakes people usually make during their internships, we’ve broken it down into bite-size criteria with a few examples!
Not understanding your capabilities
One common mistake is not understanding your own strengths and weaknesses. Suppose you’re tasked with leading a group discussion, but you’re not aware of your discomfort with public speaking. As a result, you may stumble through the presentation, leaving a less-than-impressive impression.
So, how do you avoid this? Take time to reflect on your skills, interests, and areas for improvement. By working on improving your self-awareness, you will be able to choose tasks that align with your strengths and identify areas where you can grow.
One useful tool that could definitely help you with this is conducting a personal SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) to understand yourself better.
A SWOT analysis may not always help you uncover every detail about yourself. Let’s say you do end up giving a presentation and messing it up terribly. How do you move forward from there? You could learn about how to prepare for public speaking in advance. Then, with time, slowly embrace opportunities to step out of your comfort zone.
In a situation like this, you could set up a personal development plan, which will help you improve in a systematic way.
Feedback is a crucial tool for improvement. If you dismiss or ignore feedback, you miss out on crucial insights that could enhance your skills, improve your work, and contribute to your overall development.
Disregarding feedback often leads to stagnation in the career growth trajectory. How come? It’s through feedback that we’re able to identify the areas that need improving—while also learning how to spot it next time and rectify it.
Let’s say you’re assigned a project during your internship where you have to carry out a survey to identify audio versus video content preferences among different age groups. You set up the form, send it out, and receive tons of responses. You hand it in and your supervisor notices that you’ve made one grave error—you forgot to ask for the respondents’ age.
In this scenario, your supervisor informs you of the error and shows you how to map the most important variables before putting together a form. Now, the feedback has been provided but what you do with it is the next and most important step. You can either choose to ignore this feedback or you can internalise it and learn from it.
When receiving feedback, acknowledge it with grace. Appreciate the time and effort others invest in providing constructive criticism. Use the feedback as a roadmap for improvement—whether it involves acquiring new skills, adjusting your approach, or refining your work processes.
It’s also super helpful to periodically follow up on the feedback you’ve received. You can even take the initiative and share your progress with your supervisor or colleagues, demonstrating your dedication to implementing the suggested improvements.
Not networking with industry professionals
Networking, which is essentially the whole process of building professional relationships, is a key aspect of any internship. Many interns make the mistake of solely focusing on their tasks without connecting with colleagues.
See, networking goes beyond just socialising; it’s a strategic approach to professional growth. There’s tons of valuable information to be learnt by connecting with and fostering relationships with people both within and outside of your industry. These are opportunities to learn from diverse perspectives, gather insights into the company culture, and build relationships that extend beyond immediate tasks.
Not networking can lead to issues. An intern who consistently meets or exceeds expectations in their individual tasks may struggle when asked to contribute to team projects due to a lack of established relationships with colleagues.
Reach out to your colleagues, especially those with more experience, and try to build a rapport with them. They could serve as mentors from whom you can seek guidance—especially since they’d have navigated similar career paths.
Take the initiative to introduce yourself, ask about your colleagues’ roles, and express genuine interest in their work. These conversations lay the foundation for building professional relationships.
Once you’re confident, actively seek opportunities to collaborate on group projects or join team initiatives. Participate in company events, whether they are formal networking sessions, team-building activities, or social gatherings. These events provide opportunities to interact with colleagues in a more relaxed setting—which is definitely easier.
Overlooking soft skills
Sure, technical skills are the foundation of your role, but soft skills are the glue that binds your contributions to the overall success of the team and organisation. Having advanced technical proficiency alone may not guarantee success in a workplace; it is the combination of technical and soft skills that defines comprehensive professional competence.
Communication, for example, is essential for fostering positive interpersonal relationships. Clear and effective communication ensures that ideas are conveyed accurately, conflicts are resolved efficiently, and collaboration is seamless.
Another vital skill is time management. If you can’t effectively manage your time or prioritise tasks, you may struggle to meet deadlines or get overwhelmed, which could cause things to fall through the cracks—regardless of your technical capabilities! This can lead to a perception of unreliability and impact the overall success of projects.
The process of learning soft skills, though, is quite different to learning hard skills. Hard skills, like technical abilities, are usually taught through formal training, education, or specific courses. In contrast, soft skills, which involve communication and interpersonal aspects, are developed over time through real-world experiences, observation, and continuous practice. They rely on social and emotional intelligence, adapting to different situations, and learning from feedback. Unlike hard skills, soft skills don’t often have clear benchmarks and certifications but are crucial for success in various professional and social contexts.
Starting your internship is exciting, but watch out for common slip-ups that could slow down your progress. Get to know yourself – understand what you’re good at and where you can improve. Don’t shy away from feedback; use it as a chance to get better at what you do. Networking is a big deal, so don’t skip events – meet people and build connections that go beyond your immediate team. And remember, soft skills like talking to people, working in a team, and managing your time are just as important as knowing your stuff.
When it comes to your tasks, don’t leave things till the last minute. Plan your time so you can do your best work without stressing out. Make sure you’re clear on what’s expected of you from the get-go; it avoids a lot of confusion later on. Take the lead sometimes – volunteer for things, show you’re keen, and don’t be afraid to speak up in team discussions. Act professionally – be on time, dress appropriately, and keep a positive vibe.
In your daily work, if you’re not sure about something, just ask. Pay attention to the details in your projects, and be open to changes. Write down how you do things – it helps you and your team. Fit into the company vibe – get involved with your colleagues, respect the way things are done, and use the right channels to talk to people. Avoiding these common mistakes sets you up for a great internship and paves the way for a successful career ahead.