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Ten mistakes to avoid during your internship

Internship programs are usually only 10-12 weeks long, but they offer invaluable experience that may inform your future career path. Watch out for these common mistakes to make sure you maximize your time as an intern.

Internship programs are usually only 10-12 weeks long, but they offer invaluable experience that may inform your future career path. With this in mind, making the most of your time as an intern is crucial.

How do you do that, though? Here are 10 of the most common mistakes interns make — and advice for avoiding those mistakes so you can maximize the internship experience.

1. Failing to ask questions

Don't want to ask questions for fear of sounding unqualified? Staff members and mentors understand that you're here to learn. Thoughtful questions that show you've been paying attention and want to learn more tell your manager you're eager to do well in your role. In addition to questions about your role, ask about company culture and company initiatives that can help give you a holistic view of what the job would be like as a full-time employee.

2. Not checking in with your manager regularly

Managers are busy, and it's easy for meetings about your progress to get pushed back. When that happens, speak up. Let your manager know you want to keep in touch with one-on-one meetings so that you know how you're doing and how you can improve.

3. Waiting for your manager to assign you work

Sitting at your desk waiting for your manager to give you work is not going to make a positive impression. Managers want interns to show initiative, think on their feet, and make the most of their time. If you've finished one task and you're waiting for something new, spend that time reading more about the industry and looking at the company's intranet page for relevant articles. You can also ask your manager to help you brainstorm long-term projects that can help fill the gaps when you have downtime.

4. Avoiding other interns

Many internship programs will provide plenty of opportunities for networking and bonding with other interns. Even if yours doesn't, take time to get to know them. Other interns can share tips and knowledge that you might not get otherwise, and they might just be the foundation of your future professional network.

5. Ignoring other areas of the business

Ask your manager if there's a way to incorporate other areas of the business for an assignment or project. Maybe you can shadow a team member in another department, for example. This gives you a wider understanding of the business and means you'll have more experience for future positions. It also helps you understand how your own role fits into the larger business. One way to do this is to network. Perhaps set up short coffee chats with the heads of your department to better understand how the team operates and to ask questions about their career paths.

6. Being late and otherwise unprofessional

Even though you're not a full-time employee, managers will watch to see how you handle yourself professionally. Constantly being late, missing work, ignoring the dress code and other displays of unprofessionalism will not go unnoticed.

7. Losing interest or becoming lazy

An intern who doesn't show a consistent level of interest, effort, and dedication to the job will not get hired and may not even get a recommendation. After a positive review, you may feel like you don't need to make any improvements, but interns that receive full-time offers go above that by staying ahead of the curve.

8. Not showcasing your talents

Are you really good with computers? Know the style guide like the back of your hand? Can you fact-check anything in under a minute? Let your manager know they can count on you. If a task comes up that isn't specifically in your "job description," but which draws upon your skills, volunteer to take it on.

9. Thinking you're on your own

Teamwork is a necessary part of the industry, so collaborating with coworkers isn't just helpful for you, it's also part of building a good work environment. In particular, you're not expected to take on tasks on your own when you need help from a manager or coworkers. Always ask for help. That doesn't mean you can pass off the assignment to someone else, but it does mean that no one expects you to be perfect.

10. Missing the opportunity to ask for a full-time job

A full-time job at the end of your internship isn't a guarantee. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't ask about the possibility tactfully. You never know what could happen. Schedule a debriefing at the end of your internship if that isn't part of the process, and ask what opportunities might be available to you once the internship has concluded.

Want more tips for success? Learn how to dress for the job.