Internships are a learning experience, but that doesn't mean you should expect a lot of hand-holding. The truth is, you will only get out of this experience as much as you put into it. Many interns learn this lesson the hard way—later regretting the downtime, which would have been better spent shadowing a colleague or learning a new skill.
If you make the most of your internship by going above and beyond your tasks, you will be infinitely better-equipped with a deeper resume, recommendations, and potential opportunities in the future.
Thank your lucky stars that you landed this opportunity, because this will be one of the most important assets to your career—right up there with credible LinkedIn endorsements.
But be wary of the following eight most common ways interns blow opportunities:
1. Failing to ask questions or ask for more work. You are not expected to know everything, but asking questions is a great way to show your supervisors that you are really trying to learn. Confused about something? Never be afraid to ask. Asking questions for clarification is way better than constantly re-doing your work.
Also, employers tend to be wary of overloading interns with work, especially if you are interning at a company with an easygoing culture. They likely underestimate the work you can do, so prove them wrong. If you run out of work to do, don't assume it's just free time for you to browse Facebook or Pinterest on your phone. Ask for more.
Asking for additional assignments can be tricky—after all, assigning work to you is more work for them. Pay attention to your boss' downtimes. After lunch or early in the morning may be good times to discuss your workload.
2. Neglecting to network. Never think, or (worse) utter the words, "I'm just an intern," says Uva Coles, dean of career management services at Peirce College in Philadelphia. You are not just an intern. At least for the time being, you are part of the team. "Whether it is the internship of a lifetime or one you aren't so sure about, be sure you are using that opportunity to meet people and consistently market yourself," Coles says.
3. Constantly browsing your phone. It can be tempting, but surfing the Web or checking your phone screams: "I don't want to be here!" It's just too distracting and prevents you from being attentive and fully present.
4. Dressing too casually. Take a look around. No one will take you seriously if you're dressed more casual than is the office custom. You can't go wrong with professional attire.
5. Acting like you're just temporary. Look at internships as a long interview process rather than a temp job. "Everything [you do] is observed—things like work ethic and team collaboration skills," Coles explains.
Show them how well you fit into the role and the company culture. Act like a full-time employee by attending all company functions and always referring to the team as "we" rather than "you."
6. Not asking for feedback. No news is not good news when it comes to employee evaluations. Your goal is to periodically hear that you're doing something right. Ask for this constructive criticism from your boss. Try soliciting feedback after you complete a project or midway through your internship. Whatever you do, do not wait until your exit interview to learn what you could have done better.
7. Not smiling. No one likes a pouty intern. Express your enthusiasm by smiling. It might be easy to forget this between pesky tasks or tedious work, but every now and then, remember to take a step back and show gratitude through positive energy. Smiling is the best way to convey this.
8. Leaving without a trace. Before your internship is over, make your mark by giving hand-written thank-you notes to all of your co-workers. Schedule time with your boss to sit down and discuss future employment opportunities. Be straightforward about your goals, and ask your supervisor to consider you for a full-time position or recommend you on LinkedIn.
Ritika Trikha is a writer for CareerBliss, an online career community dedicated to helping people find happiness in the workplace. Check out CareerBliss for millions of job listings, company reviews, salary information, and a free career happiness assessment.