3 Clues You Were a Bad Intern

UPDATED: September 27, 2015
PUBLISHED: January 19, 2015

Confession: I did something crazy. I wrote a blog post about being fired from my first job as an intern (“6 Reasons I’m Thankful You Fired Me”). But that wasn’t the craziest part of my wild behavior. Because as soon as my declaration was published, I looked up my former boss—yes, that boss—and emailed it to her.

She responded later that day, and we reconnected through some energizing and exciting conversations that led to a second blog (“I Fired Her, and She’s Thanking Me…”), this one by her, reflecting on that situation 14 years ago. We talked about what it means to learn the unwritten instructions of an internship.

Whether it wasn’t that long ago since you were an intern, or you lead a team with interns now, consider these three questions that the boss who fired me and I discussed candidly. Now as a professor, I began to think about my students and the questions I hope they ask of themselves—the questions I learned to ask of myself only after my failed internship—as they cross the line from the classroom to the real world.

So, before you waltz into that office, head held too high, for the first time, reflect on these three questions to make sure you’re not about to do it all wrong:

1. Are you someone who only needs to be told something once? If you have not interned yet, think about your student persona. Do you ask questions of your professor that are quickly answered by a glance at the course syllabus? As one of my professors told me many moons ago, “Be the intern who only needs to be told something once.”

If your boss has to repeat instructions more than the first time, you’re doing it wrong.

2. Are you willing to ask for help—when it’s appropriate? Do you understand the difference between a logistical question and a clarifying question? I learned far too late in the game that if you can Google the answer to your questions, you probably want to start there.

If you default to asking for help before really trying to figure it out yourself, you’re doing it wrong.

3. Are you a passive or active learner? How often do you contribute to your college course (or boardroom) discussions? Do you sit there quietly and take a note or two while conversations waft and swirl around you? As a professor, I believe that whoever does the work does the learning. Get in the conversation. So if you’re a student, take advantage of the classroom—it provides a safe place to practice the skills that will contribute to your success as an intern and employee, even if the course seems unrelated to your larger professional goals.

If you sit quietly on the sidelines instead of actively proving your skills, you’re doing it wrong.

You have to learn the rules of The Game before you can hope to circumvent them. That was one of the big reasons Amy fired me.

To learn and grow professionally, you have to learn how you personally respond to those rules.

And how do you learn and observe yourself responding to the rules? Back to square one—learn the rules.

Are you ready to play The Game?

Check out a top 10 list of the best career advice to carry with you in the professional world.

Christina Berchini is a university professor, author and researcher. She created heycollegekid.com, where she gives advice and tough love to college students. Her creative work has been featured on SUCCESS.com and promoted on BlogHer.com. Her interests include an unhealthy obsession with The Huffington Post and TED Talks.