Five mistakes to avoid as an intern
My internship went by too fast.  I learned valuable lessons, made friends for life, and secured a full-time job. Overall, not bad!  

As well as learning what to do, I learned something equally important -- what not to do.

Since then, I’ve seen many interns go through the Leadership Institute and met a lot more from across Washington, D.C.  I’ve found myself in the amusing position of advising interns against some of the very things my fellow interns and I did.

All interns make mistakes. Most are very forgivable, others make interns very difficult to like.  All of these mistakes are avoidable.

Here are five common mistakes interns make in no particular order.

Over-familiarity with staff

As you build trust with your supervisors and other staff, you should feel comfortable getting to know them, asking for advice, and more responsibility. In fact, you should aim to build your network within the office as early as you can.

However, too often interns get very comfortable around staff.  I’ve seen interns drunk at bars, complain openly about supervisors, and share private details about their lives.  An intern once asked their coordinator’s boss to a house birthday party.  Practice caution and stay in work mode when you’re around staff.

Atention to detail

I can sympathize on this one; I’m guilty of it too.  I hope you caught my mistake by the way.  

An essential part of my job is communications; I spend a lot of time writing emails, blogs, marketing material, and more.  As a result, my interns do the same.  

Simply proofreading your work can be a game changer.  Diligence and pride in your output is something every employer looks for, and as an intern, you should aim to build a reputation for this early on.  If your work requires minimum editing, you’ll become an asset quickly.


You can ask any supervisor and they’ll tell you their pet peeve is a bad attitude.  Interns who complain about tasks and are unwilling to do anything beyond the scope of their day-to-day work drive bosses crazy.  On one occasion, while holding a networking event, an intern was asked to help with registration, to which they responded: “I thought I was here to drink not work.”  True story!

Organizations invest time and energy into your success as an intern.  If you don’t appreciate an opportunity, you’ll be overlooked next time.

If you are genuinely concerned with an aspect of your work, talk to your boss and explain the types of tasks you’d like to be working on.  Remember, more responsibility comes over time as a reward for gaining your supervisor's trust.


Limiting yourself

Don’t limit yourself to the day-to-day tasks assigned by your supervisor.  Try to anticipate the work before it’s assigned and show initiative by identifying a need in your office.

While your departmental responsibilities come first, look for ways you can help others on staff. Maybe there’s a meeting today and the room needs to be prepared, an event you can help plan, or you just walk past someone on staff who needs a spare pair of hands.

I was once cleaning up after a training when two interns who had an engagement that evening stopped by LI to see if I needed help.  I appreciated it so much; the next morning I emailed their supervisors, the intern coordinator, and the department head to make sure they were aware.


Failure to branch out

I made my closest friends on the internship because we had something in common.  We wanted to go to every event, meet new people, and make the most of the short time we had in Washington, D.C.  These people are now highly successful professionals in the conservative movement.  On the other hand, some interns fail to use the opportunity and prefer to network with their peers.

This represents a tremendous waste of potential.  Working in Washington, D.C. is more than just going to the office 9 to 5; it's working in one of the most influential, fun, and exciting places in the world.  If you’re here, be here!

By avoiding these common mistakes, you’ll make a positive impression and you’ll have a great internship!