December 24, 2010

What Not To Do: Don't Be So Inconsistent That The Only Reliable Thing About You Is Your Unreliability

Life happens and throws some great curve balls sometimes. You will undoubtedly have moments where you get sick on the day of your big presentation, your car won't start, your train is delayed an hour when you timed it precisely to get to an important meeting, your dog pees in your favorite shoes, and you will be running on 4 hours of sleep because your artist kept you waiting up for them the night before you have an early morning appointment ... again. Or maybe that's just me.

Regardless of the details, reality is that life isn't perfect. There might be times where you can't control being 10 minutes late, or you were so overwhelmed that you aren't going to meet a deadline. The trick is that those situations need to be the exception, not the rule - especially when you're making important first impressions and are trying to prove yourself as an intern.

Since you're young and new, people will discount your capabilities, even though you could be the future Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg or Kevin Liles, who became the President of Def Jam after starting as an intern only 9 years prior. Greatness is within your reach. But it's up to you to prove the naysayers wrong. And even if your boss doesn't think that way and you don't have to work against the youth stigma, don't do things that make you look like a big flake. When a great opportunity comes up that they could connect you to, don't create the situation where they give it to someone else because they think you'll blow it.

Remember: being reliable builds trust; being unreliable destroys it.

Though there could be a book on this topic (I'm sure there actually are many), to illustrate, here are some of the unreliable things you should avoid doing:

  • Don't be late often.
    I know, I know - you're only young once, so you're going to go to that party where you're out until 3am and very hung over in the morning. Got it. Been there, done that. But realize this: nobody wants to work with someone who shows up 3 hours late to work, missed the morning meeting and is still hungover (ie. will not be getting any work done during the course of the day). That's the fast track to getting fired. Or, at the very least, you've killed the potential of being offered a job later, or even being able to ask your boss for a recommendation. Before you decide to go out at midnight on a Tuesday night, know how you're going to be able to handle the next day, and if the answer is that you're going to blow it, you may want to keep your partying for the nights where you don't have to get up the next morning. Or, at the very least, invest in some really good alarm clocks. Yes, that was meant to be plural. And I own the last one on that page, The Clocky ... in addition to setting my iTouch and cell phone alarms. See? I can relate. Trust me.
  • Don't be a no-show.
    Ok, I have to admit that you can top the whole being late thing. At least those people show up ... eventually. The no-shows are infinitely worse. In this day and age where everyone has cell phones - most with internet access - you have no excuse for not letting someone know that you're not going to make it. Call them, email them, text them ... whatever your communication of choice is, just do it. That actually also applies to being late. If your new Clocky still manages to not get you out of bed and you're late, send a text or email while throwing some clothes on your bod, running a comb through your hair, and bolting out the door as fast as you can go. I was late for my internship one morning because I got stuck in the elevator for over an hour with a random computer guy that worked for AOL (who also barely spoke English - I spent a lot of time talking to the security guy over the speaker in the elevator, let me tell ya). My first order of business after pressing the emergency button and telling the security person there was a problem was to give them my boss' phone number and asking them to call her and let her know what happened (I had gotten there early, dropped off some of my things and ran back out for coffee and didn't bring my cell phone). See - no excuses.

    This also goes for interviews. I have actually had a potential intern be a no-show for a phone interview. She managed to not only blow off the interview, but not say anything for DAYS after. Seriously. That's beyond rude. Unless someone died (and even then, how easy is it to send a quick email from your phone?), you have no excuse. Raise your hand if you think she got the internship. (Insert 30 second pause here.) Jury, let the record show that no hands have raised.
  • Don't forget to give your boss important messages.
    Sooo, Britney Spears called. She's dropping by at 11 to see your boss and is already in a bad mood because Starbucks messed up her order this morning. That's cool, though - you've always wanted to compare the real Brit to the tabloid version. Let's Google her and see what comes up - want to make sure you're on top of the latest with her before she shows up. Oh, look at that, it's 11 - she's going to be here ANY MINUTE. This is going to be AWESOME! Sure, you know, if you had remembered to give your boss that message and he hadn't scheduled a meeting with someone else and won't be back in the office until 3. Woops. Fail.

    Moments like that need to not happen. And even if it's not a message from a celebrity, you need to relay messages to your boss in a timely manner. For example, I was interning in NY for one of the majors and a fax came in for my boss. It was a cease and desist letter. Theoretically, I could have just put it in his in-box with the rest of his mail, and he would get to it later. But really, when someone is threatening to sue you, you kind of need to take care of that IMMEDIATELY. Alas, even though my boss was out of the office, I brought it to the attention of his Executive Assistant, who got him on the phone, and they all thus got the lawyers on the phone and took care of the issue. Crisis averted. Don't be "that intern" that would have put it in his in-box and walked away. Or even worse, needed something to throw their gum out in and took the first piece of paper they found. That may seem far fetched, but I have this distinct feeling that it has happened somewhere at some point.
  • Don't claim you can do things that you know you're incapable of doing.
    While this is a situation that could possibly happen even when you have good intentions and want to seem like a go-getter, don't do it. I understand, you want the chance to impress so you don't want to turn down any projects. But think about it this way - if you make the claim that you can get a project done and then mess up the entire thing because you had no idea what you were doing and didn't say anything, you not only failed, but you lied. Any person with common sense would cease offering you important projects in the future. "But I want to try new things and learn that way!" That's great. I applaud your enthusiasm and desire to learn and grow. But not at the expense of the organization that gave you a great opportunity. The best course of action is somewhere in between turning it down and lying that you have all of the skills to complete the task. What I recommend is this: thank your boss for the offer and let them know that you're 100% interested in the project and would love to work on it, but don't have the expertise of 'x,' 'y,' and/or 'z.' Ask if it is something that you can work on, but with guidance on the the areas that you don't have experience with / the knowledge to tackle. After all, it is an internship and you are there to learn something. But your boss needs to honestly know your limitations and be able to trust your word if you say you can do something. Make the most of the opportunity to learn something, but do not take on more than you can handle - it will just make you look bad.
I could probably go on for days about ways you could be unreliable, but I think you get the gist. Reliability is a valuable trait in an intern, and you want to be the best intern you can be in 2011, right?

"Eighty percent of success is showing up." - Woody Allen

-- Anna
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