When relationships start, they’re exciting and full of promise. Sometimes these hopes are based on a fantasy, where one party promises the other the world and ends up leaving a few months later to “find himself,” or better yet, the girl next door. Like relationships, a student’s experience interning at company can go sour if promises are broken or exaggerated for self-gain.
Every semester, and especially every summer, organizations are flooded with new students they must trust for a brief amount of time with different tasks that contribute to the good of the company. Although I don’t think about it much, it really does take courage for these companies to entrust students with an inside look of their operations, fully knowing they’ll go on to other places months later—maybe even they’re competitors.
Most of the time, at least in journalism, these internships are unpaid, competitive, challenging and make you jump through many hoops before getting the job. But in the best-case scenario, the company benefits from the student’s free hard work and the intern leaves with clips, contacts and experience. It’s a win/win situation, that is, unless one person in the relationship doesn’t hold up their end of the deal.
When one partner is unhappy, it usually ends with awkwardness, tension, and the feeling that you’ve wasted your time.
I’ve been lucky enough to have great mentors in the workplace and have enjoyed my past internships. I’m on internship #7, and I’m currently in one of my best internships yet. Living in D.C., I had the opportunity to apply for a number of equally great places, but I felt from my interview back in October that this one would give me the experience I wanted, and I in turn, would give them what they wanted. But this internship detector took time and a few stumbles along the way to build.
That’s not to say I haven’t had less-than-perfect experiences at a few, but they’ve taught me what to look for in an employer and how to deal with workplace conflict. In the past, I’ve either personally encountered OR had colleagues who have encountered:
1) Employers who abuse the interns, making them work late hours on remedial tasks without any sort of “thank you”
2) Office gossipers where the employees spend hours bashing the boss and try to get the interns involved…NEVER get involved!
3) Employers who make passes at interns, but they aren’t obvious enough or there isn’t enough proof to really say anything to a supervisor
4) Different bosses telling interns different things that results in either a war between the two bosses or one boss and a student
5) Coffee runs, copies, mailing, watering plants, waiting in the truck so it wouldn’t get a parking ticket and spending hundreds in gas money
6) Employers who promise certain responsibilities and opportunities when interviewing but never deliver on those promises when the internship starts.
7) When the boss discovers that an intern can’t do a certain task like work in a computer program, they assume the intern is incompetent and can’t do anything but mail postcards. This of course only applies if the intern didn’t LIE and said they couldn’t in the beginning.
8) Employers that have you fill out time sheets to be compensated for travel expenses or expenses related to the job, but refuse to pay up when you leave because “you’re the intern, we don’t have to pay you.”
9) Make the intern carry equipment too heavy for them and tell them to “keep up” despite the risk of a back sprain.
10) Sometimes the worst: employers who won’t give you anything to do and won’t help when you attempt to look for things to do. Simply a waste of everyone’s time.