If you’re looking to start your career on the right foot, a summer internship is one of the most useful tools in your possession. They offer a unique opportunity to gain hands-on experience in a field you’re interested in over a short period of time.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that a summer internship is a breeze — it’s still a real job, and you’ll be learning to navigate different work environments for much of your early career. We’re going to explore 10 common mistakes to avoid during your summer internship so that you can make the most of the experience.
Why do people take on summer internships?
The answer is simple: we dislike wasting our summers away having fun under the sun. No, nobody would say this. The real reason is because they are extremely beneficial — even though they aren’t ‘required’.
Internships themselves are valuable learning opportunities that prepare you for the world of work. As this article on ‘The positive implications of internships on early career outcomes’ by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) highlights, “Research supporting the positive role that experiential learning plays in the career outcomes of college graduates has prompted institutions to consider the internship as an important curricular option.”
It adds, “Despite the controversy over the value of paid versus unpaid internships, recent studies have indicated that students graduating with internship experiences, in general, are more likely than students without those experiences to find employment upon graduation.”
The article goes on to cite Look Sharp’s 2016 State of Millennial Hiring Report, “… graduates who complete three or more internships are more likely to secure full-time employment, with 81.1% of graduates reporting that the internships helped them shift their career directions either significantly (34.8%) or slightly (46.3%) by changing the focus of classes or majors. “
Summer internships, in particular, are popular because summer gifts us with lengthy breaks — ideal for committing some less-precious free time to upskilling and gaining experience. People opt for summer internships for various reasons. For example, some need the money, others may need the credits, and few may want to simply network.
While their journeys may differ, they all receive the opportunity to test the waters before committing to a field, meet professionals, ask questions, and learn a great deal. Now, let’s dive into the mistakes to avoid during your internship.
Mistake #1: Not doing research ahead of time
Ideally, researching a company should be one of the first stages of every job hunt. The last thing an employer wants is for an applicant or intern to show up at the office without a clue about the most basic company information. You go in for an interview and get asked the famously simple question “Do you know what we do?”
You should be able to ace this without breaking a sweat but sadly, some show up to interviews or even the first day of their jobs without a clue about the company they’re joining. (We’ve seen it ourselves – somebody once thought we were an e-wallet app!)
Let’s say you’ve managed to secure the internship. You’ll find that you have a lot more to learn about the company now that you’re actually working there. Look up their website and their news section. Check out their LinkedIn and scroll through their other social media. You’ll learn key details like what they do, what their goals are, who their decision-makers are, what buzzwords click with them, etc. Get a feel for their culture, values, and the kind of projects they’re working on.
Don’t forget about the industry trends as they’ll help you learn about new advancements. It’s a great way to connect with your colleagues (and you’ll find yourself coming up with more new ideas to contribute during team meetings).
Mistake #2: Being constantly late
Being the last to burst into the office every day and making everybody wait for you is one way to make a grand impression — if you’re Miranda Priestly. For the rest of us, who I’m pretty sure aren’t Meryl Streep in an iconic role, it would just be seen as an inconvenience.
Trust us when we say, it won’t go unnoticed. Being late disrupts team dynamics, delays meetings, and can even impact project timelines. It’s a major sign of poor time management skills — which is one of the most important soft skills employers look for in 2023 (and will continue to appreciate well into the future).
In a workplace, every second counts, you want to be the intern who shows up, ready to take on the day with enthusiasm and promptness.
Set your alarm, lay out your outfit, and get some proper sleep so you can actually wake up in the morning as human and not a zombie for once. Being on time not only shows professionalism but also reflects your commitment and respect towards your internship and your colleagues.
Mistake #3: Keeping to yourself
Ah, yes. The classic introvert dilemma. Keeping to yourself and donning the lone wolf persona might be tempting, but here’s the honest truth: working at all means working with people; and working with people means building bridges. Networking isn’t just a buzzword thrown around at career events; it’s a pathway towards a more successful and sustainable career journey.
Yes, it can be intimidating — especially if you’re not naturally inclined to socialising. But trust us, breaking out of your shell and building meaningful connections can be a game-changer. If you’re not into the competitive world of business networking, try viewing it as a garden.
Now, this is something that my advisor told me, but he was also really into gardening, so take it with a grain of salt. Whenever you start a conversation, you plant a seed. You keep in touch with that person, you nourish it and the relationship grows.
Each seed leads to a unique plant, which, even though it needs careful tending, will eventually yield fruit. It’s an investment for the future. Approach people with genuine interest in what they have to say — listen to their words and pay attention to their actions. You’ll be surprised how many doors can open when you step out of your comfort zone.
P.S., If your internship is remote and you’re wondering how you could possibly network then, we’ve got you covered.
Mistake #4: Lack of initiative
Not taking initiative is like taking a nap in the middle of the race — it hides you in the shadows of more active peers. What is it that stops people from taking initiative more often? It gets a little complicated here. One of the most common victims of the comfort zone is the professional career. Fear is an overpowering emotion and the comfort zone is a welcoming den of warmth. Together, they keep you bogged down and unable to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
“What if this idea isn’t good enough and everyone dislikes it? I’d rather just stay quiet.” This was an actual thought I genuinely used to hold — the fear was strong. That is, until I learnt that there aren’t bad ideas in a brainstorm. They are simply ‘viable’ and ‘nonviable’.
At the brainstorming stage, we don’t assign titles of ‘good’ or ‘bad’ to ideas, but rather focus on what’s possible to do. This helped me start contributing to brainstorms and heading projects that I suggested, which in turn led to career growth.
Going the extra mile, suggesting changes, proposing ideas, and not being apologetic for taking up that space is important to help you stand out. Internships are like a playground for learning, experimenting, and showing what you’re made of. Don’t be the intern waiting to be spoon-fed tasks; be the intern who raises their hand and says, “I’ve got this!”
When you take the initiative, you show your enthusiasm, creativity, and willingness to go above and beyond. It’s about embracing challenges, seeking new responsibilities, and adding value. So, don’t be afraid to share your ideas during team meetings or suggest improvements to existing processes.
Mistake #5: Disregarding feedback
Finally, we come to this very serious one: disregarding feedback. We understand; feedback can be a tough pill to swallow sometimes. Yet not being able to give feedback well and not taking feedback well are both big red flags for employers.
During an internship, it’s not fair to expect everything you do to receive praise. After all, you are learning and growing as a person and a professional. Therefore, there are bound to be areas for improvement. Constructive criticism and genuine feedback will find you in abundance — especially early on in your career. You need to be able to take it with grace, internalise it, and build on it.
When you disregard feedback, what you’re doing is missing out on valuable insights and perspectives. Embracing feedback with an open mind shows maturity, a willingness to learn, and a genuine interest in becoming better at what you do. This makes you a valuable candidate for some of the best jobs in any field.
Always remember that improvement is and you will receive feedback throughout your life — less so as you grow older and more experience, of course. So, don’t shy away from seeking feedback regularly. Ask questions like, “Where do you think I could improve?” and take notes. Create an action plan, plot your strengths and weaknesses, and work on it. You’ll thank yourself later.
With these tips in mind, we hope you’ll be able to easily avoid the most common issues interns encounter during their summer internships.
All the best with your summer internship. Go make a stellar impression!