Climbing The Ladder

5 Ways I Was An Absolutely Terrible Intern, & How To Do The Opposite

By | Thursday, March 14, 2019

When I was in college, I was told the key to success in the fashion industry was to land several internships to apply what I was learning in the classroom to real-life scenarios and build a professional network. Throughout my 4-year program, I did three internships: visual merchandising for a well-known brand, trend forecasting for an agency, and marketing for a different agency.

All of my close friends also interned at several different companies throughout undergrad, and whenever we would hang out, our conversations frequently shifted to vent sessions about our internships — how it was unfair that we were getting paid so little (if at all), how our bosses were annoying us that week, and the totally incompetent “other” intern in the office. But after a couple of these casual conversations, I realized I had a lot of the same unprofessional characteristics as that other intern, and it was humiliating to indirectly hear my peers telling me I needed to clean up my act if I wanted any chance of keeping a job.

Here are five ways I was the terrible intern:

1. I Was Frequently Late

I know what you’re thinking: the number rule is to just show up! And I did show up…10 minutes late, coffee in hand. I thought if I produced high-quality work, it wouldn’t matter when I did it. But showing up late displayed a lack of dedication to the job and was disrespectful to my employer. My tardiness made me look unreliable, and I was frequently given busywork, like filing invoices and coffee runs, that didn’t come with deadlines.

2. I Didn’t Ask Questions

Even though it was my first time ever in an office setting, I thought I was expected to know everything about visual operations and fashion agencies. I spent too much time Googling things like “how to use the stamp tool in Photoshop CS5” and “what is vlookup” so I wouldn’t bother my supervisor and look incompetent. This, shockingly, made me look incompetent because I often took longer to complete tasks. No one expected me to get everything right the first time, and my supervisor would have appreciated my humility and willingness to learn if I had just said, “Hey, how do you do find this statistic in Google Analytics again?”

3. I Took Initiative (Poorly)

A lot of the work I did as a visual merchandising intern involved sample management and booking couriers for various projects. This meant I was cc’d on a lot of emails that handled tracking and coordination. One time, I got an email from our PR department asking for a sample to send to a very prestigious magazine; I immediately replied saying I could give it to her later in the week after a meeting. I thought I did the right thing by updating a coworker on the availability of the sample, but I was politely scolded by my manager. It was inappropriate for me to decide who gets priority of a sample, and I should have asked my manager before sending that email and embarrassing him.

4. I Did the Bare Minimum

After the initial adjustment period at my jobs, I had a good idea of my daily responsibilities and how long it took to complete them. I pride myself on being efficient and a fast learner, so I finished tasks pretty quickly. With all my extra “free time,” I did things like take long lunches, scrolling through social media, and leaving at 5 PM on the dot. I could have spent that time improving my photoshop skills, diversifying my knowledge of Excel, or learning how the work I did would affect the company’s overall goals. Instead, I once again displayed lack of dedication to my job and the company.

5. I Didn’t Stay in Touch

After my last day, I would send the cliche “we should totally all grab drinks sometime!” emails to my coworkers, and nobody would ever follow up. I would continue to drift through my professional life without developing a network, and honestly, I don’t think my presence was missed at those companies. I have learned from these mistakes, gone on made great impressions and foster professional relationships, but it is inevitable to wonder how planting bad seeds early in my career has affected my growth.


Looking back, I am shocked I was never fired but it is not surprising that none of my former managers return my requests for recommendations. I can’t go back in time or apologize for being a The Worst, but hopefully, I can show you how to not be like me. If anything I mentioned sounds like you, don’t worry! There are a ton of great articles on how to stand out as an intern, and I recommend checking out these guides:

Riley is an e-commerce coordinator in New York. You can find her documenting New York City street style and her dog’s antics on Instagram @rileyoh_.

Image via Unsplash

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