Intern season is in full swing. Most are doing outstanding jobs, but I’ve heard from a few terrified interns over the past week who are concerned about their futures based on mistakes they’ve made during their first few weeks.
In talking with the interns, I heard similar concerns–mostly based on their surprise with how much responsibility they were given from the moment they walked in their respective offices. One said he wasn’t prepared for what to expect when a boss asks for something on a tight deadline and there is detailed written explanation of what is expected. In other words, no agency “syllabus”. When the supervisor asked for the assignment at the end of the day, the intern expressed surprise that it was due that soon. Another intern said she gets assignments from several people and is already overwhelmed, while the third said he made several typos in a media list update. All asked how they might recover and prove themselves as competent despite the early hiccups.
They didn’t feel much relief by my admission to having made several mistakes during my internships long ago. That was a different era when interns were supposed to observe, learn, run a few errands and perhaps tackle a couple of safe projects. Today, interns are expected to immediately hit the ground running. Supervisors want them to know basics about agency jobs so they can think, write and pitch from Day One. For those who hit speed bumps during the early days of their internships, be sure to think through a mistake recovery strategy.
EXPECTATION SETTING. Before beginning any new assignment, make sure you ask the basic 5 Ws. Who is requesting the work, what they expect, when they need it, where they will be using it and why they need it. Without answers to the 5 Ws, interns will start to work without full understanding about what constitutes project success.
DON’T OVER PROMISE. Be careful not to over represent your capabilities in order to impress. The more you claim to know, the less tolerant supervisors will be if you make mistakes. Admit to what you don’t know before you undertake a project. Good supervisors will take the time to explain what you need to know since they realize it is better to do so at the start of the process than attempt to correct course after the work is under way.
SEEK ADDITIONAL INFO. Ask for additional insights and details and do so early in the process, not at the time the project is due.
FESS UP. If you make a mistake, don’t blame others or claim lack of guidance. Own your mistakes; finger pointing is never appreciated. Thank whomever helped you solve the problem, and offer to help them in the future. Supervisors and peers want to know you learned something and won’t likely make the mistake again.
DON’T HYPERVENTILATE. Some individuals get so stressed out by their mistakes that they appear paralyzed from further decision making–fearing they will make additional mistakes.
Bottom line: Interns (and the rest of us) make mistakes. Deal with them directly, remain positive and move on.