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The Most Important Thing Every Intern Should Say

October 30, 2016, 8:00 PM UTC
Financial Advisor Talking With His Client
Female financial advisor talking with his client while having meeting in the office.
vm—iStockphoto/Getty Images

The MPW Insiders Network is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for: “What should every college intern know about succeeding in business?” is written by Kat Cohen, CEO of IvyWise.

“I don’t know what I’m doing.”

It’s a phrase many interns think, but few say it out loud. With a competitive job market and the desire to turn a college internship into a full-time job after graduation, there’s pressure to succeed without really asking for help. It’s one of the biggest mistakes I see interns make, and the easiest one to avoid.

One of the most beneficial traits of successful business leaders is that they know what they don’t know, and how to obtain that knowledge. Whether it’s through reading, networking, taking a class, or just hiring someone who does know it and learning from them, successful business leaders know how to fill in those gaps. It’s important for interns to do the same in order to get the most out of their internship – and hopefully a full-time job down the line.

So how do you close the gap between what you do know and what you don’t know as an intern? There are a number of resources readily available. You just have to know how to use them – and when to ask for help if you don’t. So here are a few four tips to go by:


There is a wealth of business knowledge everywhere – you just have to take some time to look for it. Reading is one of the best ways to learn something new and to brush up on information you may have forgotten. If you’re struggling with Excel or other programs like, look for free resources that can help you master the technical skills needed to do your job effectively. Need guidance on more abstract facets of business like prospecting, development, or marketing initiatives? Look for books that tackle the subjects and read them in your spare time. Successful business leaders are always learning and adapting to changing industry landscapes. Start the habit now.


There’s no better way to learn than from someone else who already knows what they’re doing. Network with others in your office, either at the water cooler, over lunch, or while just grabbing some coffee. Ask questions that can help you better perform during your internship. Your supervisor is there to help, and nothing stands out to managers more than an intern who is hungry for knowledge and has the desire to improve. Also, look for local networking events to meet and chat with others in the industry who can also help you fill in your knowledge and skill gaps.

Know When to Ask For Help

Don’t forget – reading and networking are great, but you’re supposed to learn while actually interning, too. Don’t be afraid to ask questions! So many times interns don’t want to admit they don’t know how to do something, and they end up messing up something that could have been done easily if they asked the right questions. If you don’t know something, say you don’t know and ask thorough, thoughtful questions. You will gain much more respect than if you pretend and waste time that could have been spent learning.

Accept That Failure is Okay

I see so many interns who are afraid to take initiative because of the fear of falling short of their own expectations or failing to reach their goal. Business is all about learning, and often it’s by trial-and-error. There will be ideas and plans that won’t work out. You will make mistakes, and you’ll need to fix them. Don’t let fear keep you from reaching your full potential. Your supervisors and managers didn’t get to where they are today without a few bumps in the road. Accept that you will fall short at some point, and instead focus on how to bounce back, rather than hide in shadows.

As an intern your job is to learn, so soak it all up! By taking initiative, admitting your knowledge gaps, and asking for help, you’re more likely to have a successful internship experience and reap the benefits of gaining real-world experience while still in college. Go forth and learn!