Alright, readers, time for another professional secret post! I recently read through a thread on Corporette about a lawyer that was frustrated with her summer associate because she didn’t take notes at a hearing. There are several arguments that, “she should know better”, a few arguments for, “notes are stupid if you don’t need them”, and a few others for, “just tell her she needs to take notes next time, no need to freak out!” Many of these personal preferences were stated as plain and simple facts, so you can see how it might be confusing for the summer associate. This thread made me think back to my days as an intern, and one particularly stupid thing I did.
We were running a contest that involved posting videos from contestants and having people vote on the videos. The scores were calculated using a combination of daily posts + vote tally. The contestants could post unlimited videos each day, but we didn’t want duplicate videos on the site for people to vote on. At the time, our software wasn’t smart enough to recognize duplicate videos, so we needed a human to delete the duplicates. Guess who got that all-important job? That’s right, the intern, aka me! I was also tasked with deleting inappropriate content. Add the fact that the system would randomly freeze every hour or so, and you’ve got one mindless, tedious task!
So, I’d been checking the boxes on duplicate videos for about a week for several hours per day. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click…. click. Delete. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click…. click. Delete. Bored yet? Yeah, try doing that for 3 hours a day, 5 days a week, and you’ll probably understand why I did what I did. My life was pretty crazy at the time, so I decided to call my mom for some advice. I was sitting in a cube, clicking away at those videos, talking to my mom about my crazy life. Sure, everyone takes a quick personal call once every so often during the work day, but nope, not me… I stayed on the phone with her for a full hour and a half. In my mind, I was still working, clicking away at those darn duplicate videos!
A couple of days later, my supervisor mentioned that if I needed to take a personal call, I could do so in the lobby downstairs. At that point, I realized that I was THAT intern. The one that supervisors write stories about on websites and lament the fact that my college professors and career center hadn’t taught me better, and how could that intern not know that taking a phone call in a cubical in the middle of the day was a poor choice? This is further compounded by the fact that I thought I was a star intern, super professional and prepared!
Here’s the thing: interns make mistakes. Heck, bosses with 20 years of experience make mistakes! We’re human, and we can’t play by the rules perfectly all the time. Particularly in an internship, you’re there to learn, and get most of those stupid “you should know better” mistakes out of the way, before you enter the real world! So, I have to say to the supervisors, please cut your interns a little slack. Let them know that their behavior isn’t professional, but don’t embarrass or berate them if it’s a first offense or clearly a one-time mistake. And, I have to say to the interns, think about your actions before you perform them! I had the thought that chatting with my mom was probably not the smartest choice, but I didn’t listen to my own thoughts. If you think something might be stupid or unprofessional, either ask, or don’t do it! By the time you land an internship, you should at least know enough about the corporate environment to ask if something is acceptable before jumping right in.
I’m pretty professional these days, but it wasn’t so long ago that I was THAT intern! Did you ever make a stupid choice during an internship?