What are 3 big mistakes an intern or a new hire can make?
I’ve personally been through three different internships and a couple of career shadows before I started my first full-time job.
I’ve also mentored interns and new hires, and I speak regularly with employers who are looking for new talent.
I find that there’s consistently a few mistakes that interns and new hires can make that really hinder their experience and hurt their potential with a future employer.
This is gonna be a fun one.
Number one, having a bad attitude.
I’ll put it somewhere bluntly: older generations in senior management have a tendency to quickly recognize Entitlement. The E word. I know because I’m a Millennial myself and I’ve had this discussion with countless number of older people. If you ask the right people in my world, I could probably have been accused of suffering from this awful diagnosis myself.
Is Entitlement for Millennials or Gen Z a fair stereotype? Well, yes and no. Older generations, to be honest, have always been dogging the young kids. When I say older generations, I mean, this going on for a long time. I mean like literally tens of thousands of years, older generations have been dogging on the young generation. Every generation thinks the younger one is worse and more entitled than the generations before it. This is not a new thing.
You can go back in history, back to misappropriated quotes, to Aristotle and Socrates talking about how the young generation are disrespectful and don't earn their keep, this has been going on for a long time and it will continue to go on beyond gen Z.
What is relevant today is that if a new hire shows signs of having a bad attitude, or they frustrated with doing menial tasks, employers then are seeing big red flags. They are thinking down the road – employers want to know into the future. What happens when that person is doing large projects with stress on things they’ve never done before? Are they always going to have a bad attitude? What happens if things get stale for a couple months, or is this person instantly going to leave the company?
A bad attitude is a killer for career prospects.
Also, employers are people too.
Who would you want to work with? Somebody who’s a stuck in the mud and dragging their feet each day? Someone who’s complaining about everything that they have to do? You’ve been on team projects, so you know how it works. We want to work in a place where people are friendly and generally optimistic, and also who generally want to have a little fun and smile during the day. Life is too short to dredge through and be negative about what we do. And employers are thinking the same thing. They’re looking for a positive, can-do attitude, and someone they really don’t have to regularly motivate.
There was once an intern that I was working with who after making a mistake, not only did they not own it, but they blamed, literally blamed the person that was mentoring them, that the mentor didn’t tell them that. Talk about biting the hand that feeds you and burning bridges. If you make a mistake – OK – you’re human. I’ve made plenty mistakes. Own it, apologize, and do better. Entitlement is a very ugly sign that you’re not willing to do the work that others have done before you.
We once had an intern with a sour attitude who killed off one of our favorite office traditions – having the intern go pick up ice cream for the office. And I can say firsthand, nothing kills a fun vibe than someone more who comes in and really just doesn’t wanna play part of the team.
Number 2 mistake, lacking professionalism.
Showing up late to work, missing work, dressing unprofessionally, or cussing is a great way to flag an employer that you’re not serious about your role.
It’s not the fact that you are cussing with your cubemate in small office banter, it’s more about the concern that you’re going to be doing that same thing in front of clients someday. That’s a major turn off for an employer. Be professional, be kind, be courteous, and really just be the person you’d want to hang around.
Number 3, pretending you know something you don’t.
On my very first internship, on my very first day, I went through orientation with HR. They gave me a little note that said a project name and a street address. They asked if I was familiar with the area, and while I wasn’t sure, I said yeah and moved on.
The next morning, I punched the address into the GPS. And yes, I’m old enough to have use the GPS, which was its own plug-in device and not a part of your watch.
Well, I plugged the address into my GPS device, and I followed that GPS to a nice little place called Washington Missouri. It did not take me to place called Washington Avenue. The difference between those two locations was only about a 2-1/2 hour drive... on opposite sides of an entire metro area. I found this out only as I pulled up to the quote “jobsite” in Washington, MIssouri only to see a grocery store in a rural area.
Needless to say, I made half a dozen frantic phone calls to even just get the number of my project manager, just to call and apologize. And that was my very first impression on my very first internship. And I was gonna be an hour and a half late at least and not a little late, a lot of late. So needless to say, that could have been totally avoided had I just not pretended that I knew exactly what was going on and asked a few more follow up questions.
I’ve made mistakes. I was mortified that that that was the very first impression - was really that it was not an impression - it was an absentee, that first morning, but my mistake, again, wasn't driving to the wrong address. My mistake was acting like I knew about the project and where it was instead of asking a very basic question and possibly looking dumb, but in the end, getting the right result.
Well, the next day of that same internship, I don’t know how I kept that job. I was asked to make copies of a report. It sounds pretty basic but I have never used a commercial copy machine before. I asked if I needed to take out the staples before making copies. That answer came with a blank stare and a “Yeah, of course.”
Well, later on during that internship, as I started to actually learn things and pick up feedback from our project manager, she told me that she knew I was gonna be all right when I had asked something as basic as whether or not to take staples out of a report before making copies. She thought it was possibly the dumbest question that anyone it ever asked her on a jobsite, but had I not asked it and instead shoved the report into the copy machine, I would’ve probably destroyed the copier and made out like an idiot, aside from destroying, you know, a thousand dollar copier.
One quick question that made me look stupid. It is okay if it, that the end result was a correctly done task and you know that it didn't destroy the copier. I didn't have to ask that question again because now that I know you gotta take out staples, I, you know, that was a one-time deal. Also, for the record, that image is from office space. That was not exactly my haircut at the time of the internship.
So, the risk of asking a dumb question is really very small compared to the risk of totally screwing up an entire task or wasting a ton of time.
The guys in the field used to tell me stories about how they would prank interns their first week. I don’t know if these were totally real or totally made up, but it made a pretty good point right off the bat. They would start off and tell the intern that the intern needs to ask questions when they’re not sure about things.
Later they’d put that to the test. They’d ask the intern to go grab a pair of pipe stretchers, or sky hooks, or foundation movers, or some other made-up term. They told countless stories about wasting time hazing the intern because the intern was too stubborn to admit they didn’t know what they were talking about.
Internships and the fresh hiring experience are honestly all about learning and training as quickly as possible. It’s far better to ask a dumb question once and know the answer forever like my staple question than to not ask and for everyone to find out a couple of years later that you just don’t even understand basic concepts. So soak it up, you only get one chance to be the young new hire.
And I can guarantee if asking a question is difficult now, it’ll be even more painful if you don’t ask it and have to ask it years down the road. So, ask now so you can learn and grow as quickly as possible.
My personal caveat to this is try not to ask the same questions twice. You do wanna learn, and you move forward and grow, but you don’t wanna drag other people along, too. So listen and absorb.
Those are the three big mistakes I’ve seen interns and new hires make in my personal experience.
I'm Joe Meyer, this is MeyerFire University.
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