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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Getting Ahead

5 Ways I Was a Terrible Intern

Anyone who watched It’s a Brad, Brad World on Bravo this past season is familiar with the celebrity stylist's assistant, Lindsay, who famously took a break from her day’s work to pose in a tiny white bikini and sailor’s hat for a photographer who was there to shoot her boss’s photo. She’d only held the job at this point for a couple of weeks, and the unease that ensued was palpable to everyone—including me, watching from the couch.

But the reason Lindsay’s antics made me especially uneasy was because they brought back memories of the jobs I held—and the cringe-inducing mistakes I made—early in my own career. And while I can’t turn back time and take them all back, I can share them with you so you don’t make the same ones.

Here are five ways I was a pretty terrible intern (and even junior employee), and how you can avoid being as stupid as I was.

1. I was Late on my First Day (and Most Subsequent Days)

Before I started my job, my editor told me, “work starts at 10 AM, but I get here at 9:45.” What she really meant was “get here at 9:40”—so when I rolled in at 10:05, it was an automatic bad impression.

A friend who worked with very square accountants once told me that “on time is late,” and as much as I hate to admit it, it’s true. To show that you’re ready to work and excited to be there, make it a rule to arrive 5-10 minutes early, particularly when you’re just starting at a job. (And by the same token, don’t leave right at 5 PM, either.)

2. I Asked to be Reimbursed $2.25 for Subway Fare

I was 25, I had just finished grad school and was interning for free at a consumer food magazine. I already had a chip on my shoulder about not getting paid, so when I was asked to pick up ice cream from the grocery store across town for a photo shoot—I requested that the magazine at least give me the subway fare. My editor was gracious about it and reimbursed me, but, seriously, don’t do this. If it's $2.25, eat it. In the long run, it’s much better to be a team player than to have a couple extra bucks in your pocket.

3. I Wore Disposable Flip-Flops

You know those woven flip-flops you get for free after you get a pedicure? I wore them. On my second week of work. I had heels in my bag, but it was May, spring had sprung, and my supervisors seemed so cool and laid-back, I didn't even think it would matter if I just kept them on. But it does—there’s a line, and I definitely crossed it. When I joked about how comfy they were, my boss looked me up and down and walked away—absolutely no amusement on her face.

Until you work at a place for at least six months and really understand the culture and personalities of those around you, don't take chances with your wardrobe. And even then: Never, ever wear disposable flip-flops.

4. I ate Buffalo Wings (While Working a Reception Desk)

My boss came out, saw my messy fingers, and dry heaved in the corner. This was actually a job I’d had at a country club in high school, so it's a bit more excusable—but the lesson is: Don't eat anything messy (or anything at all) when it's your job to be the point person or greeter. Similarly, if you're working a party or event, do not drink anything until your job is done. A good friend of mine is an event manager, and in four years at her job, she has made it a point to never once consume alcohol in front of her boss. Wise choice: Things could turn bad at any moment, and she doesn't want to have a beer in her hand when they do.

5. I Cried

Yep, real tears. To be fair, this was during my first couple of months as an editorial assistant at my first job in New York, and I was being reprimanded for not hitting the mark on an article I had edited. But, I believe my exact words—through sobs—were "why did you hire me if you don't even like me?"

Please, don't do this. You will want to cry at some point during your job, but do whatever it takes to hold it together until you're alone. Go in the bathroom. Wait until you get home. And if you do get into a situation like mine? Keep the conversation focused on your work performance and how you can improve it—not on whether or not anyone likes you.

Luckily, my career survived these blunders because of things I did right (turning in good work, being dependable, having a good attitude—usually), though it wasn’t without a series of bad first (and second) impressions. Making mistakes early in your career is inevitable, but at least you can cross a few of mine off your list.

For more in this series, check out: Internship Week

Photo courtesy of Michelle Lee.