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Out of the Mouths of Interns

Ed was an intern once, and he said some silly things to his editors that he regrets. But now that he’s an editor, he can laugh about those days…and cringe about the ridiculous things that come out of his friends’ interns’ mouths. If you’re hoping your editor will be a reference for you some day, never ever say the below (all uttered by real interns, by the way!).

“Your edit made my story worse.”
After Ed’s friend edited a story her intern wrote, she asked the intern to check that the edit was free of inaccuracies. Instead of doing what the editor asked, the intern let the editor know that she thought the story was stronger before the editor took her red pen to it. Bad move–no editor takes kindly to an intern critiquing her editing skills. At some point in their careers, pretty much every writer thinks an editor’s version of her story pales in comparison to the original. But unless there’s a factual error, most writers don’t say anything. Why? Because the editor almost always has a better grasp on what her magazine needs. In this intern’s case, her tone was completely off.
It’s okay to defend your decisions, but your editor usually can guess why you included certain things in your story, so the defense isn’t necessary–and it can annoy a busy editor.

“Oh, I’ve got plenty to do. Thanks for asking, though.”
It’s true that internships are supposed to be mutually beneficial–the intern gets to learn and the editor gets some help with her work. But don’t forget, interns, the editor is your boss. If she asks you to do something, do it. Your editor is sensitive to your workload, so, most of the time, she wouldn’t ask you to do something if she thinks you can’t handle it. There’s also the myth that editors’ top priority is making sure their interns are enjoying their internship. While this is important to most editors, getting the job done always ranks more highly.

“Sorry, I’m going to be late today. I’m going to the Yankee tickertape parade.”
Yes, an intern really used this as an excuse. As the editor told Ed, if the intern would’ve just said she was stuck on a bus or had a doctor’s appointment, the editor wouldn’t have questioned it (if it was a one-time thing and not a frequent occurrence, of course). Saying that you’re at a parade or some other fun event is admitting that you don’t take your internship seriously. And maybe that’s true. But don’t expect your editor to take you seriously when you ask for job help in the future.

“Is this going to turn into a job? Because I really want a job.”
Believe Ed–your editor knows that you eventually want a full-time job. Rather than flat-out asking that, show how great you are by going above and beyond what you’re asked to do–and always doing your assigned tasks quickly and well. That’s more likely to convince your editor to speak on your behalf when a job opens up rather than bringing up that you want a full-time gig. Also, asking that makes your editor realize that you see the internship as a means to an end and not an opportunity to learn. Not a good thing.

[said well before the internship was set to end] “Can you write a letter of recommendation for me for this job I really want?”
It’s okay to apply to jobs on the DL during your internship (just don’t let your editor see you checking out WhisperJobs when you’re supposed to be fact-checking!). Asking your editor for help to get a job before your internship is up makes her feel like you’re using her. Why should she go out of her way for you if you’re not willing to finish out your term like you promised? After the internship, though, asking for job help is totally fine, and if you’ve done a good job as an intern, you can bet your editor is going to be thrilled to assist.

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