Ah, internships! The gateway to employment. The key to getting noticed in a bleak economy. The rite of passage that gives you access to influencers, awesome connections, and memorable opportunities.
But why are so many interns doing things they shouldn’t? According to a study by Harris Interactive, there’s a huge gap between students’ perceptions of their abilities and managers’ perceptions of those same skills. Only about half of college grads who have taken the time to complete internships say they feel prepared for the workplace, and the number of bosses who think they’re prepared is lower than 40 percent.
A common problem with internships is that many are laced with busy work—like running errands or performing administrative tasks—and these tasks don’t help you build relevant skills. Although some administrative duties can be expected in an internship, you deserve an immersive and educational experience overall. To truly get the most out of your commitment and ensure you’re not dampening your internship experience, it’s worth doing your research on the employer and the tasks provided.
What are some things you shouldn’t be doing as an intern?
1. Going without a paycheck.
Chances are, you or someone you know has had an unpaid internship. While it has become common practice, unpaid internships are not only bad for your wallet—especially if you’re still in school or have heavy student loans—they also don’t provide you with the proper legal protection. Unpaid interns are not seen as employees in the eyes of the law, and therefore do not have the same workplace rights as actual employees. This can open the door to discrimination, unfair wages, and no possibility of legal recourse in either event.
How to get around it: As a rule of thumb, you should be getting offered at least the federal minimum wage for your internship. This ensures you’re given legal protection against workplace discrimination, as well as ample credit for your work. Apply only to internships that promise pay, a stipend, or perks (like free meals, telecommuting options, or an onsite gym) that make the experience doable. Your wallet will thank you.
2. Being discriminated against.
Being harassed based on gender, age, sexual orientation, race or any other part of your identity will not contribute positively to your internship experience—and could have serious psychological effects. You should never be given or excluded from assignments based purely on your identity, and you should never be targeted with rude or discriminatory comments from superiors. While laws like the Fair Labor Standards Act exist, guidelines for internships are foggy. Because unpaid interns aren’t legally recognized as employees, you may have no way to fight this behavior. In any employment situation, it’s important to ensure you’re working with an institution that shares your values and favors equality.
How to get around it: Always research an organization before applying. Talk to previous interns or employees, and check out the company’s mission statement and goals. If you are given assignments that you’re uncomfortable performing, talk to your manager about alternative ways to complete the task. If they don’t listen or aren’t concerned with your objections, it may be time to find alternative opportunities.
3. Working solo.
The point of an internship is to gain ample understanding and knowledge from experienced professionals. In fact, 47.3 percent of interns say they’re most interested in access to executives and mentorship during an internship. If you’re stuck in a back cubicle and aren’t getting mentored or being provided feedback on your work, you’re not getting the educational experience you deserve. Further, your employer is clearly showing they don’t value your growth as a professional. What’s the benefit in that?
How to get around it: If you’ve been promised mentorship opportunities, suggest a schedule that you and your supervisor can abide to. If you haven’t been promised these opportunities, communicate the value you find in mentorship. Ask how you can improve as an intern and suggest scheduling a regular meeting with your manager to receive feedback.
4. Doing menial tasks.
Interns have long been stereotyped as the menial task runners of the workforce, from coffee fetchers to bathroom cleaners. But if these duties weren’t part of the job description, you shouldn’t be expected to do them. Besides not bringing any value to your experience, menial tasks do nothing to build up your portfolio or impact your employer in a meaningful way.
How to get around it: During your first week, outline your goals for the internship. Investigate the tasks you’ll be performing during your tenure. If you’re constantly being given menial tasks, sit down with your manager and circle back to this conversation, communicating that you’re concerned your internship has gone off the tracks.
5. Avoiding goal-setting.
Like most interns, you probably had an image of the perfect internship experience. Whether it was connecting with top executives or making a difference in the organization, reaching your goals should be a vital part of your internship experience. If you’re not reaching levels you pined for, you need to do some evaluating. Why aren’t you obtaining your goals? Why are you performing tasks that are far from the job description? And why isn’t anyone doing anything about it?
How to get around it: First, it’s important to select an internship employer that puts a heavy emphasis on professional development and getting the most out of your time as an intern. While this may not be always possible, you can always communicate what you would like to gain by setting up a one-on-one meeting with your manager, where you can outline steps both parties can take to get where you want to be.
While you may be faced with an unlikely internship situation, remember you can always change your course if you communicate your needs and follow through on your experience. Doing so will ensure a more fulfilling internship experience.
What do you think? What are some other things you shouldn’t be doing as an intern?