April 9, 2024

LeadershipProfessional Development

5 Things I Wish I Did Better As an Intern

By: Remso Martinez

Internships are the gateways to the professional world, offering a blend of excitement, learning, and the inevitable missteps. Reflecting on my own internship journey which spanned 4 years in Washington D.C. (yes, I fell asleep on the metro more than once), I recognize moments ripe with opportunities I didn’t fully embrace. 

Here are five things I wish I’d approached differently, hoping my insights pave a smoother path for those stepping into their own internships. 

Staying True to My Assigned Role 

Eager to impress and driven by visions of my dream job, I often found myself straying from my assigned tasks, attempting to tackle work that aligned with where I wanted to be, rather than where I was. 

While ambition is commendable, I now understand the value of focusing on the job at hand. Excelling in your given role opens doors to those opportunities you’re eyeing. It’s about building trust, showcasing your dedication, and mastering the basics before aiming for the stars. 

Embracing the Learning Curve 

In my tunnel vision for the job I wanted, I overlooked the rich learning opportunities other roles offered. Every position, no matter how distant from my aspirations, had lessons to teach—about the industry, about collaborative success, and about the interlocking gears of a functional workplace. 

I wish I had taken the time to learn from these roles, appreciating the ecosystem of the workplace in its entirety. 

Steering Clear of Office Romance 

Navigating new social environments is a hallmark of internship experiences. However, embarking on a romantic relationship within the office complicated my professional journey in ways I hadn’t anticipated, because life isn’t like “The Office”, sometimes things just get very, very awkward and uncomfortable when your personal life becomes the topic of water cooler conversation.

The personal dynamics introduced unnecessary challenges, affecting my focus and the way my colleagues perceived me. In hindsight, maintaining professional boundaries would have safeguarded my work environment and allowed me to concentrate on what I was there to do—learn and grow. What can I say though? I was young and there were (are) a lot of attractive women in D.C., I should have just focused on the ones outside the office though. Keep my personal life personal, and romance outside of the office. 

Leveraging Networking Opportunities 

Internships are not just about the work you do but also about the connections you make. I underestimated the power of networking, often letting opportunities to connect with industry professionals slip through my fingers. 

Whether it was shyness or a misjudged sense of priorities, failing to build a network at certain points was a missed opportunity. Each connection could have been a doorway to new knowledge, advice, or even future job prospects. 

Seeking Out Mentors 

Lastly, I wish I had actively sought mentors during my internship. Beyond just completing tasks and projects, having a mentor to guide me, challenge me, and offer feedback would have enriched my experience. 

Mentors provide insights not just about succeeding in your current role but also about long-term career planning and personal development. I completed my duties, yes, but in doing so without seeking guidance, I missed out on the wisdom that could have shaped my journey more profoundly. 

At Least I Learned, Right? 

Internships are as much about discovering what kind of professional you want to become as they are about contributing to the organization. The lessons learned, especially from the paths not taken or the opportunities not seized, are invaluable. To those embarking on or navigating through internships, I hope my reflections help you make the most of your experience, embracing each day as a step towards your future.