The Most Common Mistakes Media Interns Make
All the baby hustlers trying to make it in media today seem to think accumulating as many internships as possible is the best way to do it.
I personally have mixed feelings on that. I had a grand total of zero internships as a wee college student, because I couldn’t afford to and didn’t want to work for free. And hey, I survived.
But there’s no denying you can get some great experience and make some solid connections as an intern. Form a relationship with the right person at your internship, and you can basically press fast-forward on your media career.
Unfortunately, there’s an internship mania gripping today’s liberal arts majors. People seem to be seeking out as many internships as possible, like shiny pink Pokémon, just to get the experience. Instead, it’s important to make sure an internship is the right fit for you — and that you’re going to contribute to the company, not show up and do nothing like an Omighty-clad time-succubus.
All this is to say we see a lot of the same mistakes being made again and again. Therefore, I’ve constructed this handy, no-BS guide for what not to do if you’re interning at pretty much any media property. Enjoy!
1. Not reading the website you’re applying to
If you’re applying to intern at any media outlet, your job is to convince them that you’re their biggest fan and dying to work there. It doesn’t matter if that’s not true — effing fake it!
I can’t tell you how many applicants we get who seem unfamiliar with Galore’s content. And hey, it’s fine if we’re not your fave. Not everyone is gifted with such impeccable taste. But you should at least familiarize yourself with the site (or looking at our graphics, or our Instagram, or whatever department you’re applying with) when you meet with us for an interview.
This is true after you’ve nabbed a job, too. One of the most maddening things an editorial intern can do is pitch something the company’s already done before. You’d be surprised how often this happens.
There’s simply no excuse for not staying up-to-date on the output of the company you’re interning for or applying with — especially if the content’s fun and easy to read.
2. Being unfamiliar with the industry at large
Whatever industry you’re hoping to go into, you need to be the biggest stan of that industry, especially during interview time.
Like, let’s say you want to be a writer and someone asks what you’re currently reading most. The answer should not be “social media” or “Twitter.” It should be the name of a website. Or maybe a book if you wanna get really crazy.
If you’re applying for a job in the media, you should be a media junkie. You should be able to name your top three favorite media outlets off the top of your head, for funsies. You should be able to explain what you like about them. You should be able to remember at least one news article you’ve read and enjoyed over the past month.
If none of this is true, why are you applying to work in media? Please leave your Sarah “all of ’em” Palin impression at the door.
3. Friending the supervisor on LinkedIn five minutes after she responds to your email
Some professor who has never had a job outside academia probably told you connecting with as many people as possible on LinkedIn was a good idea. Don’t listen to them.
Nobody likes going on LinkedIn. LinkedIn is a necessary evil. It’s a quick way to standardize your résumé at best, and a nuisance that emails you way too often at worst. And it seems like no matter how many times you tweak your preferences, you’re getting messages from LinkedIn constantly.
If you add someone on LinkedIn, they will receive an email about it. They will either open the email or glance at the subject line and see your name in it. Either way, they will think, “ugh, how annoying, another email to deal with.” Do you really want them to associate your name with feelings of annoyance this early in the relationship?!
Aside from the inbox clogging, it’s presumptuous to add your boss or potential boss on LinkedIn. She barely even knows you yet! Wait until the internship is over, or wait for her to add you first. Anything else is the professional equivalent of a thirst trap.
4. Not understanding simple email etiquette
I guess kids these days don’t email with their professors much, because some of the correspondence that slides into my inbox is offensively informal. In fact, I once had a potential writer email me the following during the interview process, with no greeting or closing:
So what now ?
Excusez-moi, are you joking?! I had no idea my online personal brand made me seem chill enough to gladly receive an email like that!
Also, on the topic of email: there’s a difference between “reply” and “reply all.” This is a common error and not a deal-breaker, but it won’t do you any favors.
If you email someone asking for a job, they might respond and CC another member of their team, because your application is relevant to both of them.
If I have CC’ed someone else on my response to you, it’s because I want that person to be included in all of the emails to follow. From then on, you should hit “reply all” instead of “reply.”
Like I said, this mistake is common enough and won’t hurt your chances. But making me take time out of my day to explain how reply-all works in yet another email won’t help ya.
Dealing with email will be a huge part of most internships you get. Showing you understand how it works is a good look.
5. Getting too comfortable too quick
It’s fun to work in a creative field, there’s no doubt about it. But if you’re an intern, you’re the lowest person on the totem pole. You shouldn’t be joking around or shooting the shit on day one. You should be focused on getting your work done.
In creative or entertaining industries, part of the job is to make what you do look easy. In fact, this actually adds a-whole-nother layer of difficulty to what we do.
So it can be insulting when someone comes in on the first day and acts like it’s party time. Creatives work their butts off, they don’t just sit around on Instagram all day, no matter how good they are at it.
A good rule of thumb is to always read the room — if everyone’s hard at work, now’s not the time to dazzle them with your wit. Your boss didn’t hire you because she thought you’d have good Slack banter, she hired you to do work.
It might sound harsh, but you have to earn the right to goof off.
6. Forcing the supervisor to repeat herself or pay extra attention to you
At many media companies, interns hit the ground running with actual responsibilities, not just coffee duty.
That means there’s a lot to learn on the first day — and you need to take notes. Because if your boss has to tell you the same thing about WordPress or formatting or how to send an email over and over and over again, you’re probs gonna end up transcribing interviews the entire semester. And pssst, transcription is one rung up the ladder from coffee duty, in case you didn’t know.
Remember that your supervisor is not your teacher or baby-sitter. Her job is not to make sure you’re tucked in with a teddy bear, happily blogging your deepest thoughts on Beyoncé. Her job is her job, and you’re there to help her out in exchange for school credits or cash, plus a line on your résumé.
You might have heard the saying that the squeaky wheel gets the grease. In the world of interning, that is absolutely not true. The squeaky wheel is annoying as f*ck to the people who are trying to get a job done.
Make your work so good it speaks for itself and don’t bother people more than you have to. You’ll be your supervisor’s fave in no time.
7. Giving a sob story if you’re late on a deadline
Interns who are enrolled in classes and have part-time jobs are gonna have wonky schedules. It’s just a fact. Your boss will either be sympathetic to that or not, it’s just a roll of the dice.
But even if you have the most understanding supervisor in the world, you still need to get stuff done when you say you will. If you can’t get it done, be honest ahead of time and say you can’t handle it — you’re just learning, no one will be mad.
Whatever you do, don’t leave your failure to the last minute. That will screw your boss over. And if you do fail to finish something on time, don’t give her a sob story about it. All it will do is make her feel guilty for hassling you about something you said you were going to do.
A simple “something personal popped up” or “I got called into work and couldn’t say no” plus an apology is fine. Don’t let it happen again and don’t try to play the sympathy card. We’re all adults here.
8. Not paying attention to details or expecting someone else to fix your mistakes
This kind of goes back to the first point. But if you’re interning, make it your job to get your work as close to perfect as possible before handing it in.
Your supervisor is not a teacher who’s going through your work and putting X’s over the incorrect stuff and handing it back to you. She’s putting together a product that needs to be perfect for the platform’s readers, viewers or followers. Any time she has to correct something simple or toss it back to you to fix something, she’s lost time she could have spent working on something else.
That’s why you need to familiarize yourself not just with the aesthetic and voice of the place where you’re working, but the nitty-gritty of how they do things.
Like, for example, many publications have a standard format for styling credits — the part of a photo story that gives the photographer name, stylist, etc. Let’s say it’s your responsibility to put that together today, but you don’t know off the top of your head how the company does it. Should you:
a. ask your supervisor how to do it
b. search the site for a similar story and figure it out yourself
c. wing it!
The answer is b., figure it out yourself, with a. ask your supervisor in a close second, if you absolutely can’t find the answer on your own.
You’d be shocked how many people opt to wing it and make up their own rules. It sounds insane, I know! What a waste of everyone’s time. So why not do the research yourself? Figure out how it’s done with a simple site search, and your supervisor will think you’re a genius. The bar is that low, people.
I think interns sometimes believe asking their boss is the easiest option, because they’re sitting right there. But usually, your supervisor is going to be busy doing something totally unrelated to what you’re about to ask her. So you should always, always, always ask that big boss in the sky — Google — first. You’d be surprised how helpful the internet can be! It literally knows everything.
As Lisa in our West Coast office would say, “Google it, dawg.”
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9. Not knowing your place
Even if you’re not a Capricorn, you have to realize your professional life is all about working your way up.
Interning is gonna suck sometimes because, like I said, interns are at the bottom of the totem pole. It’s especially gonna suck if you have an ego, which most aspiring creatives do. That’s right, no matter how brilliant or talented your mom or English teacher told you you were, you’re now the lowest of the low.
But the good news is it’s only up from here.
When your supervisor sends you corrections, it’s not because you’re stupid or bad. It’s because you’re still learning. No one expects you to come into an internship knowing perfectly well how to do everything. That would be impossible. But the best interns are the ones who learn quickly, make themselves useful, and are clearly doing their best to contribute and improve.
As Stanley Tucci says in “The Devil Wears Prada,” your boss isn’t going to “kiss you on the forehead and give you a gold star on your homework at the end of the day.” It’s work, not daycare.
So don’t treat your supervisor like she’s your friend. Don’t show up hungover — everyone can tell. Don’t be late. And don’t be a diva. You have to earn that. One day, you will, but for now, you’re still proving yourself. So do it.