The Do’s and Don’ts: How to Make the Most of Your Internship Experience


Getting an internship is such an exciting time! You’ve finally got a foot in the door to gain real world experience in your desired field. While internships come with huge opportunities for growth, they can also come with pitfalls if you don’t go in with the right attitude.

To help you maximize this invaluable experience, here are some of the most common mistakes interns make and how to avoid them:

How to Make the Most of Your Internship Experience

1. Not Asking Enough Questions

It’s completely normal to feel overwhelmed when you start an internship. You’re flooded with new information and don’t want to seem clueless. But asking lots of questions is key to learning the ropes quickly! Don’t struggle in silence – speak up. The more questions you ask, the faster you’ll grasp important concepts.

Some smart questions to ask include:

  • How do teams here collaborate on projects?
  • What skills should I focus on developing?
  • What are some unwritten office rules I should know?

By actively seeking information, you’ll reduce unproductive struggles. Asking questions shows initiative and will help you become a valuable team member much faster.

2. Having Unrealistic Expectations

It’s easy to go into an internship expecting to immediately start doing hands-on, resume-building work. However, most internships begin with less glamorous grunt work like data entry, organization, copying, and taking notes in meetings. Don’t expect that you’ll be leading top projects right away. Demonstrate you’re willing to take on basic tasks first before gradually earning more responsibility.

3. Bad Mouthing Your Last Internship/Job

Venting about a previous bad internship or job may feel cathartic, but it can damage your reputation with new colleagues. Even if your last workplace was miserable, avoid bashing it. You never know what connections people have. Focus the conversation on positive lessons learned that will help you thrive in this new role.

4. Acting Entitled

Some interns act entitled or expect special treatment since they’re just temporary workers. But in order to earn respect and learn all you can, drop any ego at the door. Roll up your sleeves, and immerse yourself as a humble team member. Keep in mind interns are there to learn and help companies, not the other way around.

5. Having a Bad Attitude

No matter how mundane some internship tasks may seem, maintain a positive attitude. If you constantly complain or have a poor work ethic, managers will notice. Doing grunt work is temporary, but making a good impression can open doors. Be that intern who’s always eager to help and learn.

6. Gossiping

The office grapevine can be tempting to jump into as an intern, especially if you overhear juicy gossip. But steering clear of unproductive gossip is always wise. Don’t get pulled into trash talking co-workers or divulging confidential information. Anything you say can easily get back to the wrong people.

7. Being Late and Unreliable

As an intern, it’s absolutely vital you show up on time and follow through on assignments. Nothing reflects more poorly on you than being perpetually late or forgetting to complete tasks.

Set phone alarms, calendar reminders, and ask for help prioritizing if you’re feeling overloaded. Managers will forgive the occasional mistake but tardiness displays a lack of responsibility.

8. Acting Bored

Internships inevitably involve mundane assignments like data entry that are vital to office workflow but not very stimulating. Even if a task bores you, avoid zoning out or checking your phone excessively. Stay focused on contributing wherever possible. Your work ethic doesn’t go unnoticed.

9. Rejecting Constructive Feedback

During your internship, managers will likely provide constructive feedback to help you improve. While criticism can sting, don’t take it personally.

Thank your manager for taking the time to invest in your growth. If you argue or get defensive, managers will be reluctant to mentor you in the future.

10. Forgetting to Ask About Full-Time Positions

If your goal is to turn your internship into a full-time job offer, set reminders to ask about open positions a month or two before your end date. Come prepared with a list of the skills you’ve gained and projects you contributed to. With some nudging, you may get an offer without even needing to formally interview. Don’t miss out on potential opportunities by neglecting to ask.

The Internship Code of Conduct

Do ask plenty of questions to managers and team members to quickly learn new processes, expectations, office norms, etc. Don’t hesitate to speak up!Don’t make assumptions when unclear or struggle silently trying to figure things out. Ask for help early and often.
Do complete any grunt work like filing, data entry, note taking, inventory checks, etc. with a positive attitude. Avoid complaining – every task is valuable.Don’t turn down tasks because they seem boring, repetitive, or beneath your abilities. Pitch in wherever help is needed.
Do arrive 10-15 minutes early every day. Adjust your commute to account for traffic. It’s better to be early than rushed and late.Don’t stroll in late or miss deadlines. Set phone alarms if needed to stay on track. Lack of reliability reflects poorly.
Do dress professionally according to office attire norms. Notice what managers wear. When in doubt, overdress on first day.Don’t wear overly casual clothes like ripped jeans, leggings, tank tops, crop tops, flip flops, etc. even if the office vibe seems laid back.
Do volunteer for extra projects when your bandwidth allows. Offer to help colleagues who seem overwhelmed when possible.Don’t act entitled or above certain tasks. Avoid saying “That’s not my job description” – jump in where you can.
Do stay off personal social media, avoid idle chatter, and limit personal calls/texts during work hours. Remain professionally focused.Don’t be on your phone chatting or scrolling social media constantly. Set limits like 10 mins at lunch or taking personal calls in private areas only.
Do proactively seek feedback and implement any constructive criticism without getting defensive. Thank them for taking time to mentor you.Don’t make excuses or argue when given constructive feedback about improvements needed. Be open to learning.
Do build positive relationships and get to know coworkers. Ask about their roles and projects. Network internally.Don’t isolate yourself – step out of your comfort zone to mingle with different teams. Get exposure to the whole office ecosystem.
Do own up immediately if you make a mistake. Apologize and focus on how to prevent it in the future. Honesty goes a long way.Don’t try to cover up errors or point blame at others. Take accountability for your actions rather than making excuses.
Do frequently express appreciation and thanks to colleagues who help you. Send thank you emails or bring treats to share.Don’t take a team player attitude for granted. Express your gratitude for coworkers’ time and guidance.
Do clarify all next steps and deadlines when assigned a new task to avoid surprises down the road.Don’t make assumptions that could lead you astray on deliverables or timing. Always get project details in writing.
Do ask about open full-time positions 1-2 months before your internship ends. Express interest in remaining on staff.Don’t miss potential job opportunities due to failing to inquire about available roles. Be proactive about pursuing openings.

The Bottom Line

Internships provide invaluable real-world training you simply can’t get in a classroom. By avoiding these common mistakes, you’ll maximize the value of your experience and become a star intern. Approach each day with energy, humility, and professionalism. Soak up new skills eagerly. And don’t forget to have a little fun along the way.