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Interns, Listen Up! Top 5 Things You Shouldn’t Be Doing

Interns, Listen Up! Top 5 Things You Shouldn’t Be Doing

Ah, internships! The gateway to employment. The key to getting noticed in a bleak economy. The rite of passage that gives you access to influencers, awesome connections, and memorable opportunities.

But why are so many interns doing things they shouldn’t? According to a study by Harris Interactive, there’s a huge gap between students’ perceptions of their abilities and managers’ perceptions of those same skills. Only about half of college grads who have taken the time to complete internships say they feel prepared for the workplace, and the number of bosses who think they’re prepared is lower than 40 percent.

A common problem with internships is that many are laced with busy work—like running errands or performing administrative tasks—and these tasks don’t help you build relevant skills. Although some administrative duties can be expected in an internship, you deserve an immersive and educational experience overall. To truly get the most out of your commitment and ensure you’re not dampening your internship experience, it’s worth doing your research on the employer and the tasks provided.

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What are some things you shouldn’t be doing as an intern?

1. Going without a paycheck.

Chances are, you or someone you know has had an unpaid internship. While it has become common practice, unpaid internships are not only bad for your wallet—especially if you’re still in school or have heavy student loans—they also don’t provide you with the proper legal protection. Unpaid interns are not seen as employees in the eyes of the law, and therefore do not have the same workplace rights as actual employees. This can open the door to discrimination, unfair wages, and no possibility of legal recourse in either event.

How to get around it: As a rule of thumb, you should be getting offered at least the federal minimum wage for your internship. This ensures you’re given legal protection against workplace discrimination, as well as ample credit for your work. Apply only to internships that promise pay, a stipend, or perks (like free meals, telecommuting options, or an onsite gym) that make the experience doable. Your wallet will thank you.

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2. Being discriminated against.

Being harassed based on gender, age, sexual orientation, race or any other part of your identity will not contribute positively to your internship experience—and could have serious psychological effects. You should never be given or excluded from assignments based purely on your identity, and you should never be targeted with rude or discriminatory comments from superiors. While laws like the Fair Labor Standards Act exist, guidelines for internships are foggy. Because unpaid interns aren’t legally recognized as employees, you may have no way to fight this behavior. In any employment situation, it’s important to ensure you’re working with an institution that shares your values and favors equality.

How to get around it: Always research an organization before applying. Talk to previous interns or employees, and check out the company’s mission statement and goals. If you are given assignments that you’re uncomfortable performing, talk to your manager about alternative ways to complete the task. If they don’t listen or aren’t concerned with your objections, it may be time to find alternative opportunities.

3. Working solo.

The point of an internship is to gain ample understanding and knowledge from experienced professionals. In fact, 47.3 percent of interns say they’re most interested in access to executives and mentorship during an internship. If you’re stuck in a back cubicle and aren’t getting mentored or being provided feedback on your work, you’re not getting the educational experience you deserve. Further, your employer is clearly showing they don’t value your growth as a professional. What’s the benefit in that?

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How to get around it: If you’ve been promised mentorship opportunities, suggest a schedule that you and your supervisor can abide to. If you haven’t been promised these opportunities, communicate the value you find in mentorship. Ask how you can improve as an intern and suggest scheduling a regular meeting with your manager to receive feedback.

4. Doing menial tasks.

Interns have long been stereotyped as the menial task runners of the workforce, from coffee fetchers to bathroom cleaners. But if these duties weren’t part of the job description, you shouldn’t be expected to do them. Besides not bringing any value to your experience, menial tasks do nothing to build up your portfolio or impact your employer in a meaningful way.

How to get around it: During your first week, outline your goals for the internship. Investigate the tasks you’ll be performing during your tenure. If you’re constantly being given menial tasks, sit down with your manager and circle back to this conversation, communicating that you’re concerned your internship has gone off the tracks.

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5. Avoiding goal-setting.

Like most interns, you probably had an image of the perfect internship experience. Whether it was connecting with top executives or making a difference in the organization, reaching your goals should be a vital part of your internship experience. If you’re not reaching levels you pined for, you need to do some evaluating. Why aren’t you obtaining your goals? Why are you performing tasks that are far from the job description? And why isn’t anyone doing anything about it?

How to get around it: First, it’s important to select an internship employer that puts a heavy emphasis on professional development and getting the most out of your time as an intern. While this may not be always possible, you can always communicate what you would like to gain by setting up a one-on-one meeting with your manager, where you can outline steps both parties can take to get where you want to be.

While you may be faced with an unlikely internship situation, remember you can always change your course if you communicate your needs and follow through on your experience. Doing so will ensure a more fulfilling internship experience.

What do you think? What are some other things you shouldn’t be doing as an intern?

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Published on September 16, 2020

12 Practical Interview Skills to Help You Land Your Dream Job

12 Practical Interview Skills to Help You Land Your Dream Job

Today, with many companies going remote—at least until there’s a COVID-19 vaccine—technical proficiency is a vital skill for every interviewee to master. You may be asked to interview for a job on Zoom or Microsoft Teams. The way you handle yourself in the online interview (your interview skills) will say much about your ability to work from home efficiently.

Does your workspace look clean or cluttered? Is the area free from noise? Is your home office well lit?

Once hired, you may be asked to organize meetings on Zoom and other platforms. Along with mastering the technology, you will have to learn to follow certain protocols.

Now is the time to get up to speed on your technical skills. Learn which interview skills are needed for the particular job for which you are applying and practice them.

Online learning sites, such as LinkedIn Learning and Udemy, offer courses for free or a nominal membership fee. If you are a DIY type, make use of training videos offered through your particular digital tools.

Additionally, demonstrating that you have these 12 interview skills will help you land your dream job.

1. Organization

When you work in a brick-and-mortar office, some of the organizing is left to others. Your direct supervisor may host a Monday morning quarterback meeting where each worker reports on the progress on their tasks.

When you work from home, much of the organizing will be left up to you. To a much greater extent than before, you will need to develop a schedule and stick to it. Some tasks may be faster to complete from your home office where you don’t have other workers competing for your attention.

Conversely, you may find that some tasks that would have gone quickly in an office seem to take forever from your home computer. Your phone may ring a lot, which can distract you, or you may have kids and a spouse who inadvertently disrupt your schedule.

To do: Set a schedule and stick to it.

To discuss during your interview: Be specific. Point to the interview skill you utilized to create a schedule for a complex work project and followed it.

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2. Flexibility

You set a schedule for the completion of your tasks, but your prospective boss gets their work done between the hours of 2:00 and 8:00 a.m. Your West Coast partners are three hours behind your East Coast partners, and one of your partners lives in England while another lives in Australia.

Feedback and collaboration (see point 3) may need to happen asynchronously. Be the flexible candidate—the person who is willing to occasionally disrupt their schedule for the greater good of the team.

For extra credit: don’t just look up time zones, look up whether they observe Daylight Savings Time.

To do: Be flexible about meeting times.

To discuss during your interview: Highlight a time when you worked on a team where members lived in different time zones. Discuss your processes.

3. Collaboration

As recently as six months ago, before the pandemic raged around the world, collaboration wasn’t quite as essential as it is today. In a remote office setting, collaboration doesn’t just mean working well with others—but actually sharing documents and editing them online on time.

Several cloud-based tools, such as Google Drive, Basecamp, and Trello, enable the type of collaborative teamwork that most companies want today.

To do: Download the correct software and practice using it.

To discuss during your interview: Discuss how you worked remotely with a group. Share how you overcame certain challenges.

4. Poise

Murphy’s Law states, “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.”

When things do go awry, keeping your wits about you will demonstrate your consummate professionalism under fire. This will show your future bosses that you will be able to work well under the pressures of remote work.

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What could go wrong, you ask? You might be muted without realizing it—your Internet connection may not be robust, your headphones may blip out, your cellphone may ring, Zoom could have an outage. The list goes on and on.

To do: Make sure you have the most up-to-date versions of Skype and Zoom uploaded.

To discuss during your interview: Consider highlighting a time when a project did not go as planned. Demonstrate the interview skills that allowed you to rise to the challenge.

5. Communication

Your ability to handle online communication is one of the top critical skills you will need to thrive in today’s remote workplace. Download Slack if you haven’t already. Get used to toggling to a different form of online communication if one of your tools fails.

When it comes to the preferred format for your online interview, demonstrate proficiency by offering several different options. Give your phone number, Google Chat Hangouts name, and Skype ID.

To do: Familiarize yourself with video conference and online chat tools, such as Slack, Fleep, or Workplace by Facebook.

To discuss during your interview: Be prepared to share the online communication tools you’re using and examples of how you use each one.

6. Good Computer Hygiene

Setting up a backup system for your computer files is one of today’s crucial requirements for working in the digital age. Storing documents that can be shared by team members is also an efficient way to work together on presentations, articles, and reports—although studies show nearly one-third of employees avoid them because of the time it takes to find documents.

Be prepared in your interview to indicate your experience utilizing this technology, describing how you organize and store files using cloud-based collaboration tools. How do you keep track of links and tabs? Do you use Dropbox? Google Docs? Confluence? Others?

To do: Take inventory of the cloud-based document sharing and storage systems you know and use.

To discuss during your interview: Describe the document sharing tools and backup systems you utilize—both for personal protection and professional file sharing.

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7. Proper Meeting Etiquette

Today, presenting yourself virtually has its pros and cons. While you only have to show a professional persona from the waist up (make sure to straighten up your office space behind you), you must boost your energy to show that you’re engaged in the discussion.

Make your voice as upbeat as possible. Have your talking points at the ready and be careful not to ramble on, as long virtual meetings easily become tiresome. Use the mute and chat features to avoid interruptions.

To do: Once you know the meeting platform, make sure you have it mastered before your interview.

To discuss during your interview: Offer to share your screen to show an example of a work project— while at the same time demonstrating your prowess with video conferencing tools.

8. Respecting Feedback

In the age of working remotely, there may not be as many systems in place to obtain feedback (such as yearly performance reviews). Workers may need to ask for feedback, while managers may need to give more feedback than usual as the team adjusts to working off-site. Respecting feedback is on top of the interview skills list that you should learn.

Taking a proactive approach with giving and receiving feedback and incorporating it into your work style is a desirable quality that your employers will note.

To do: Reflect on the positive feedback you’ve received from past employers to bolster your confidence.

To discuss during your interview: Share a time when you received feedback that made you grow in the job. If you’re a manager, share a time when you gave feedback to an employee who needed to better their job performance.

9. Project Management

Staying on task with projects has evolved far past a to-do list, with electronic tools that can track time, manage team workloads, and even do the client billing. While your prospective employer may have its preferred project management program, your experience with any of the various options—whether it’s Basecamp, Teamwork, Smartsheet, or another—will be applicable.

To do: Know which project management software is likely to be used by the industry in which you’re interviewing, and familiarize yourself with its features.

To discuss during your interview: Highlight a project management feature that is particularly useful in helping you excel in your work, and explain how you utilize it.

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10. Staying up to Speed

Employers expect their remote workers to be technically proficient so that technology runs smoothly and doesn’t create work disruptions. Bosses count on remote workers to know enough about their systems to manage them without relying on the help of overworked IT staff.

To do: Make sure you have a fast internet connection and have a back-up plan, such as a second computer or other tethered devices.

To discuss during your interview: Note that you are diligent about keeping your computer and software up to date.

11. Attention to Cybersecurity Issues

“Virus” is a loaded term these days. Spreading a computer virus in your company, however, will not only bring productivity to a halt, but it will also make you a pariah. While working from public places using free Wi-Fi (with uneven security provisions) has waned, in pre-pandemic times, coffee shops accounted for 62 percent of Wi-Fi security breaches.

To do: Keep antivirus software updated and don’t download software without verifying its authenticity.

To discuss during your interview: Emphasize your awareness of cybersecurity risks and your care in taking necessary safety measures.

12. Teamwork

Work relationships now mostly happen in virtual settings, yet employers value team-oriented workers.

Being a part of a team gives you a sense of connection and shared purpose. A well-honed team understands how mutual reliance makes the sum of its parts greater than when individuals act on their own, improving the end product.

To do: Take stock of your attributes as a team player and where you can cultivate skills that will enable you to work more collaboratively.

To discuss during your interview: Inquire about the company’s culture and how it encourages a sense of community despite working remotely.

Final Thoughts

Preparing for remote positions available in today’s job market will mean honing your interview skills to highlight your technical abilities as well as your adaptability. By adhering to these To-Do’s and perfecting your online interview skills and charisma, you will rise above the competition and win over any prospective employer.

More Tips to Improve Your Interview Skills

Featured photo credit: Christina @ wocintechchat.com via unsplash.com

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