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18 Giant Mistakes Made by the Intern

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Gaining work experience can be hard. As an intern, all you want to do is impress those around you. Be the best, the smartest, the quickest. Sometimes that results in taking things upon yourself – things that are maybe a little bit outside your abilities. Or maybe a lot.

Check out these 18 stories of major intern mess ups.

1. Film Swap

A friend of mine told this tale. Back during the first Nixon administration, she was an undermotivated 18-year-old hippie whose wealthy father forced a pal who owned a film distribution company to give her a summer job.

This was in the days before DVDs. Hell, this was the days before videotape. To watch a movie privately, your only option was to rent a film and run it through a movie projector. This particular film distributor was the largest in the northeast and served many large and prestigious companies and institutions. The company consisted of an office where orders were taken (by rotary telephone or snail mail) and a warehouse where an enormous film library was stored and orders were filled by a staff of mostly non-English speaking workers.

At that time, my impertinent friend behaved like a princess. However, she was bright and had good English skills, and it was New York, where an attitude is expected, so she was given a job taking orders.

One Friday evening after the shipping crew had gone home, at almost 6:00 PM, the phone rang. My friend answered to discover the White House was on the line. The President himself wanted to watch a film over the weekend. Now, this might impress some, but as older readers may recall, a favor for Richard Milhous Nixon was not generally considered cause for bragging.

The conversation began to go wrong when she cut off the President’s aide to announce rudely that the order was impossible because the last UPS pickup had passed. The voice on the other end explained—as if to a child—that he would send a White House courier to pick up the film.

“Okay,” she said grudgingly. “What film do you want?”

He mentioned the name of a deeply patriotic WWII movie.

“Okay,” she said. “That will be $96.50.”

This produced even more of an annoyance since the White House normally received its films at no charge. You can imagine the argument between an aide to the most powerful man in the world and a stubborn 18-year-old. Finally, the Presidential aide lost patience and said,”FINE, I’ll take it up with your boss on Monday, just GET THE FILM READY, the courier is on his way!”

My friend agreed. She hung up the phone, walked back to the empty warehouse, found the film, and brought it to the shipping area. As she was starting to package the film can for shipping, she noticed that a stack of new movies had recently arrived. On top was a documentary entitled, Interviews with My Lai Veterans (1971) .

This documentary, combined with the President’s desire to watch a war film, sparked an idea in her radical, Vietnam-war-protesting, teenaged brain. She swapped the films, putting My Lai Vets in the can ordered by the President. The courier arrived shortly. She handed him the package and went home smirking because she had just changed the world!

When she arrived at work early Monday morning, the company was in an uproar. The entire shipping department, now fired, was wailing and shrieking in another language. Apparently, the POTUS had watched 15 minutes before realizing this was not the film he had ordered.

My friend had to own up that she, not the shipping department, had filled the order. After this announcement, she was in the doghouse, but her father was too important to the owner’s business so he could not fire her! She walked away scot-free and still smirking.

2. Reply All

The CPA firm I worked for always hired 4 or 5 summer interns, and they just got picked up to help on miscellaneous engagements as needed. When they didn’t have anything to work on, they were required to email the entire department with an “available for work” email, so people would know they were free.

When one of the interns sent their email, another intern friend of his accidentally hit “reply all” with three simple words: Suck my penis.

The intern just told an entire department of 60-something people including partners, managers, department heads, etc. to “Suck it.”

It was magical. Everyone got the email at the same time, and you could see heads start to come up over cube walls one by one like prairie dogs. Managers slowly stepped out of their offices and everyone just stared at each other in shock.

They now offer “reply all” training as part of intern orientation.

3.  Draft

Okay, a fun one that happened in a family law firm.

X (female) and Y (male) were divorcing. Actually, it was X who wanted to divorce, and so she approached the law firm asking to draft a divorce request. She had not yet told Y about her intentions.

Lawyer drafted the letter (with a big “DRAFT” sign across the document) and emailed it to intern asking to mail it to X for proof-reading and feedback.

Intern deleted the large “DRAFT’ sign and sent it by post – only not to X, but to Y.

Needless to say, neither X nor Y was happy, and the intern was let go.

4.  “pppppssssshhhhhhffffffffff”

I was an aeronautics tech, and we had just received new interns fresh from college as part of their course work. They were in their second or third week.

We had just finished doing a maintenance check on a Boeing 737 that was supposed to fly a UN delegation to a neighboring country in the region for a peace mission or something. My colleagues and I signed off, headed to lunch, and left the clean up to the interns.

One of them was cleaning out the main cabin area. He had one job. One Job. And then, he had the bright idea to do this.

There is an evacuation slide and it deploys when the main cabin doors are opened in the armed position. The 737 had a stand alone fail safe voice alarm that notified anyone trying to arm it in case it was unintentional. If it fails to deploy or is not armed, there is a manual lever or, in our case, a red nylon handle tucked in the side of the door written in giant white letters “PULL”. So, that’s exactly what the intern did. The door was not armed, as a matter of fact, it was not even close, but he went ahead to, of all things, pull the damn handle.

We were all out of our work overalls getting ready for lunch when we heard the terrifying and familiar “pppppssssshhhhhhffffffffff”. We all knew it. Someone had messed up.

Well, some of you might think, “Hey, what’s the big deal, just get the slide back into the plane, you still got time.” Once an evacuation slide is deployed, it has to be taken down from the plane and transported to a certified shop, which was not onsite by the way, where it is re-inflated again to check for defects, deflated, professionally packed, and its air canister re-pressurized. Then, it has to come back to the hangar, get lifted, and fixed into the aircraft again.

Needless to say, the intern cost the company about $18,000 in delay expenses for the UN flight, peace for the country they were headed to, and our lunch.

5. Easily broken

Okay, I give in because I got an A2A. I don’t really consider this catastrophic, but it’s a funny story, and I had people messaging me from all around the company telling me what a great laugh they had encountering this bug (including the team that had to fix it!):

I joined at the beginning of my internship under the username www (they are my initials) and all the engineers’ sandboxes started to redirect to mine because of the URL address.

So yes, I managed to break things, without even writing a single line of code.