Interns, here's what to do if you make a mistake on the job

Danni Zhou, Intern
Getty Images | Jamie McCarthy

What happens when the first day of your internship doesn't go perfectly? I can tell you, because it happened to me.

I'm a student at the University of Pittsburgh and, this summer, an intern for CNBC Make It – the site you're reading right now. I got here by applying to about 100 programs. (Be prepared for lots of rejection if you're an intern.)

My first day at the office, things started going wrong immediately.

Danni Zhou

I had received an email a day earlier requiring me to present my I-9 verification documents to the human resources coordinator. The directions she sent told me to go to the first floor, down a hallway, it mentioned going past the news room and used "blue carpeted steps" as a landmark.

Still waiting for my own ID, my supervisor temporarily lent me her badge so I could drop off the paperwork — it's needed to enter the offices on every floor.

Finding the location wasn't easy; I wandered around the lobby three times, yet I never found the hallway, the blue carpeted steps or even the news room.

The receptionist at the front desk advised I try the NBC offices at the Rockefeller Center. (NBC has several different locations.) So I Google mapped my way to 30 Rock...right across the street.

That building's security and guest services couldn't decipher the email's instructions either. But as I turned to leave, a security guard stopped me: "Young lady, whose badge is that? It is against the rules to exchange badges. Tell whomever it belongs to that they need to come down to get yelled at. You need to leave the badge here with me."

Uh oh. Not only had I failed to deliver the paperwork, but I just got my supervisor's badge confiscated. I immediately expected the worst — my supervisor would get fired, leading to my own termination. I also had to tell her all of this.

So what do you do when you make a mistake as an intern? According to experts, the best course of action is to admit your mistake, immediately address the issue and become more aware in the future.

Co-Founder and CEO of WayUp Liz Wessel
Noam Galai | Getty Images

"Everyone makes mistakes at some point, so don't panic if it happens," Liz Wessel, co-founder and CEO of WayUp, tells CNBC Make It.

In fact, "Any good manager recognizes interns aren't as experienced as full-time employees, and are consequently more likely to make mistakes," says Sean Leslie, senior content strategist at Payscale.

Once you become aware of the problem, "Let your manager know as soon as possible, and come with a solution to the problem," says Wessel. "No one wants to hear about a problem without also hearing some sort of solution."

Wessel also stresses the importance of not repeating your errors. "Make sure you understand your mistake and that you learn from it," she says.

And once you've done all that, "Don't let it affect the rest of your work," advises ZipRecruiter CEO Ian Siegel. Obsessing will only cause you to make more mistakes.

I followed the experts' advice and, luckily, my supervisor had her badge returned with just a stern warning.

As for the I-9 documents, I discovered the following day that the office I was searching for was at CNBC's headquarters in New Jersey, not at Make It's office in Manhattan, where I was.

That's another lesson: Always ask lots of questions.

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