The Biggest Internship Mistake You Might Be Making

This article was originally published on LinkedIn. 

Following my freshman year of college, I took an internship with a mid-sized utilities company in California. Most of my time was spent analyzing the budget of a small department and updating the forecast for the upcoming year. It was my first real internship, and although I was largely unprepared, l wanted to make the most of it.

Most days I ate lunch at my desk, but a few weeks into the internship I was invited to go out to eat with the new team. I declined the offer, insisting I would love to go but had too much work to complete. Sure, I was busy trying to finish an assignment, but nothing so urgent I couldn’t step away for an hour. In reality, much of my rationale for declining the lunch invitation was to showcase my work ethic and commitment to the job. I thought that by saying no I might impress my colleagues. While this sounds ridiculous in hindsight, for some reason it made sense at the time.

As an intern I was so focused on getting things done and trying to look busy that I missed a big opportunity to build rapport, strengthen relationships, and more fully integrate with the team.

I’m probably being a little hard on myself by shining a bright light on a small misstep, but I believe that many interns can subconsciously fall into this trap. We often get so caught up in the “big things”, such as completing assignments and responding to emails, that we forget the “little things”, such as having lunch with a coworker or reaching out to a colleague we’d like to meet.

But in reality, the little things are the big things, and when we focus on projects at the expense of people, we risk creating a rift between us and our coworkers.

I tried to learn from this lesson during my LinkedIn internship last summer. LinkedIn has an awesome internship program and we were fortunate to hear from several key executives, including our CEO, Jeff Weiner, and Chairman, Reid Hoffman. Additionally, there were many small group lunches with leaders throughout the company where we could ask questions and learn from their experiences. Several interns turned down these opportunities, claiming they were “too busy” to join, but those who managed their time and attended the events had a rich and inspiring summer.

We all know that networking is critical when seeking a great internship, but we often forget how important it is to keep strengthening our networks after we’ve started.

As you go throughout your internship, consider taking a step back and asking yourself whether you’re striking the right balance between projects and people. Doing good work is critical, but so is developing strong relationships with your colleagues.

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