Summer slow-down lets interns shine -- or fizzle

As the summer wears on and August approaches, interns might find the energy level at their work sites waning. The full-time employees might be distracted by pending vacations that still need last-minute planning, erratic child-care schedules, and a slowing-down of the general workload, depending on your industry.

But this doesn't mean it's time for the trusty intern to slow down. In fact, now is the time to stand out – show what you can do while others are slacking. It's one thing to look good when things are busy, but it's particularly impressive to look good when things aren't.

Unfortunately, I've heard of a few instances lately that haven't reflected well on some summer interns. On one of my favorite web sites,, where people can post their secret thoughts anonymously, the first secret listed this week reads: "Sometimes I hope that the economy stalls a little bit longer so the idiot intern won't get hired!'' A few days earlier, a friend told me that someone had posted a Facebook message complaining about her interns being stupid and screwing up deadlines – showing that social networking sites can have an impact one one's career in more ways than one.
Perhaps these employees' complaints are valid and perhaps they're not, but there's one lesson that's universal here: Always remember that the people you work with and for, are people who potential future employers will turn to for feedback and recommendations. They're the people who will agree or decline to write you a letter of reference. They're the network whose mental contact list you will want to tap for future entry-level jobs. They are not the people you want to annoy, piss off, or spur to call you an "idiot'' in an online forum, anonymously or not.

We've all heard (or, in my case, advised) about top intern mistakes. Dressing sloppily or provocatively. Complaining about assignments. Making personal calls during work. Beancounterblog in the past has recounted some other behaviors to avoid – particularly the oft-repeated BusinessWeek online warning: "oh, it's just an internship syndrome.'' If I've written this once, I've written it 100 times: It's never "just'' an internship – it's a career tryout. Do what you can to be professional, reliable and hire-able.

Beancounter lists some other, perhaps less frequently cited behaviors to consider: Let full-timers handle office gossip; avoid flirting, even with your fellow interns (hard as that may be; it lends an air of immaturity); be grateful when treated to a meal. My own personal favorite, which I tell my Columbia College Chicago students each semester: Don't be the diva. Don't treat the internship as a "what are you going to do for me'' experience. Don't go into an internship (or any work place) with a sense of entitlement.

Also, don't expect that employers won't be sharing anecdotes of "nightmare'' interns. A story last month by Susan Adams of shares some particularly compelling anecdotes that could leave many human resource professionals ready to rethink their internship programs. Among the more egregious examples cited in Adams' article: interns stealing computers (which lead the employer to do background checks of future applicants); interns who essentially wouldn't leave once the internship was over; and interns who assumed they'd basically be able to do what they want, including travel internationally and invite themselves to prestigious events.

Summer is seen as a relaxing time, and many offices do conform to this thinking: Dress codes might be toned down; work hours on Fridays might be shortened. But for interns, it's a time that could make the difference between being hired or having to continue sending out cover letters and resumes and setting up interviews. As the temperature rises, make sure your enthusiasm, reliability, courtesy and professionalism do, as well.

Jennifer Halperin is the internship coordinator at Columbia College Chicago, and Money College's Internship Insider. Her column runs every Wednesday; send suggestions for story ideas to Jennifer at
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