The Biggest Mistakes An Intern Could Make

By Brett McKenzie Posted on Jun 24, 2019

Creative directors and recruiters share real-world faux pas

It's summer in the city, and that means that there are a lot of eager young creatives on the hunt for their very first job, or just getting their feet wet via a summer internship. And as we do every year, The One Club for Creativity is extending a helping hand by way of our Intern & Creative Networking events, taking place across the US.

Now quite often these enthusiastic up and comers are looking for advice on how to make a great impression, and the creative directors and recruiters who attend these events are more than happy to give it to them. But what about all of the things that job applicants should definitely not do, lest they become a cautionary tale for future interns? Ahead of the first of these gatherings, taking place this Thursday in New York, we chatted with all seven of that event's panelists to find out the errors that could put anyone's career off to a rocky start.

Elena Knox
Creative Director

“We hired an intern for the summer — let's call him Andy — who was a writer. Andy was very talented for being an intern and had won all kinds of awards during ad school, so we had high hopes. But being hired at our agency doesn't just take talent. At Droga5, you kinda gotta be nice. Someone we'd all want to have a beer with. And while Andy was talented and fit in well, we soon found out he was also cocky.”

“At a work event, he gossiped to some fellow creatives about how he was on a ‘lame’ TV brief. A TV brief for crying out loud! Something I didn't work on until I was a midlevel creative. Needless to say, it made the rounds in the department that Andy was complaining about being put on a TV assignment, and he wasn't hired. Moral of the story: don't talk shit about assignments in an effort to fit in with other creatives as they vent about their own work. Fitting in is important, but so is humility.”

Banks Noel
Creative Director

The Dirty Dozen: 12 Big Internship No-Nos:

  1. Leaving work early
  2. Waiting around to be told what to do
  3. Working too slowly
  4. Being M.I.A. during business hours
  5. Not asking questions (no matter how dumb they seem)
  6. Leaving your computer at work when you go home
  7. Not being proficient in all necessary computer programs
  8. Doing only what you are given
  9. Not being willing to work the weekends
  10. Taking two-hour lunch breaks
  11. Not introducing yourself to as many people as possible
  12. Not having the best attitude in the office

Emily Elyshevitz
Creative Internship Manager

“If you have written to me for an internship, and you have not heard from me, please do not write again saying, ‘I sent you an email and you didn't answer!’ I think that statement shows a lack of understanding of just how busy recruiters are, and it also shows a tremendous lack of compassion towards what we do. I receive so many internship inquiries daily, and I attempt to answer as many as I can. I've given advice, pointed people in the right direction by providing information for contacts in the areas they are seeking, but inevitably, I am not able to answer every email, or I may miss few. If I haven't responded to your email yet, the best thing to write is ‘Hi Emily, sorry to be writing to you again but I am very interested in working at Ogilvy. I can imagine your inbox is crazy with internship requests.’ Or write something along those lines"

“One of the worst things that an intern can do when working in the internship program is to have a sense of entitlement. You will work hard because you want this job and you want to grow. Understand that growth takes place over the years. The only thing you are entitled to, besides your paycheck, is to be treated with dignity. Other than that, work is work. You are competing with very talented people. So work to make a case for reward based on your contribution and effort over time.”

Leeann Leahy
The VIA Agency

"Just because an office looks homey doesn’t mean it is your home. There was one summer intern in the creative department who always wanted to join group brainstorming sessions, which largely happen in the common spaces with sofas and comfortable chairs and such. An admirable way to contribute, you would think. But one day in the midst of a particularly rowdy brainstorming session, her supervisor looked over to ask the intern her perspective on an idea only to find her sound asleep on the sofa. Perhaps the night before had been too long, but this activity repeated itself three more times over the course of the internship. Really, it’s never a good idea to be asleep on the job, but it is even worse when it is literal and habitual!"

Gregg Louis
Creative Recruiter
Giant Spoon

"It's 2019, and school, as we know, is very expensive. Everyone graduating is inevitably hungry to start working. So I get it, it's a natural response to sell yourself as a jack of all trades. In theory that makes sense; if you cast a wide net, you will have more potential opportunities arise. Unfortunately, I think that theory often backfires on students. If you're one-half writer and one-half art director, you're not fully either of those things, and you're about to be thrown in a pit of peers branding themselves as experts in those disciplines."

"We value diverse skill sets and truly believe all creatives should be a patchwork of skills and interests, but I think the real trick is how you frame yourself to future employers. Set yourself up for success by choosing an emphasis in one area, and any additional skills or passions you may have should be presented as supplemental capabilities. Then, you are the Art Director who can also code or the Writer who can also design. If you employ this strategy, the odds of getting your first dream role will greatly increase. I promise."

Fifi Jacobs
Talent Acquisition Manager
FCB New York

I’ve given some considerable thought and I’ve come up with five don’ts for those looking to apply for an internship or a job, based on my own professional experience.

  1. Don’t lie. Don’t lie.Don’t lie.
  2. Don’t share any of your pornography writing/ideating, no matter how creative it might be. Trust me, it might concern a future client.
  3. Don’t present or send out anything without first thoroughly checking for typos — you might be surprised how many appear.
  4. Don’t give a false impression that you did all of the work yourself. When you give proper credit to your co-creatives, it underscores how secure you are.
  5. Don’t just present your best creative when trying to get hired. I want to see is a glimpse into something about you that stands out about your individuality. I will always remember a writer who wrote on their resume under Languages: fluent in sarcasm — they were hired. Another actually used snail mail and created individual paper fortune tellers — we hired her.

Emlyn Allen
Creative Director
Hudson Rouge

"Oh wow, there’s a number of things interns can do to annoy a creative director. Acting like a hotshot always seems to piss off most people, so please be humble. Misrepresenting or exaggerating your involvement on previous work in your portfolio can also raise a few eyebrows. But perhaps the most irritating thing in an interview setting is chatting with interns who haven’t done their research. Read up on the agency, the team, know the work and know the clients. We’ve had interns come in, telling us how excited they are to work on our biggest industry competitor — Cadillac!! That’s a one way trip to the elevator I’m afraid."

The One Club's Intern & Creative Networking Event summer schedule is as follows:


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