Getting a job

When Your Internship Isn’t Worth It

For the most part, internships are great – they offer real world job experience while letting you get a behind the scenes look and feel to a whole new field or the career path of your dreams. But, unfortunately, not all internships are created equal.

After I graduated college, I tried to get into the field of professional writing with no practical experience beyond my creative writing degree. When I stumbled upon a virtual internship for an online travel magazine that didn’t list experience as its requirements, I thought I had hit the jackpot. Little did I know that this internship wasn’t worth it. I stuck through with my commitment for almost the full length, but I honestly should have done myself, my family, and my resume a favor by quitting earlier.

If you encounter any of these signs or “red flags” during your next internship, take the time to consider whether or not your internship is worth it.

  1. Your Skype interview is at unreasonable times. In today’s day and age, Skype interviews are becoming more and more popular, particularly for satellite or online work. One of the responsibilities of such work though is to reasonably accommodate both the potential employee’s and the employer’s time zones. As the intern, I wanted to accommodate my potential boss, but his request to have a Skype interview at 11:00am Indian Standard Time (1:00 Eastern Standard Time) showed a lack of respect. His lack of consideration at this initial juncture was a red flag for the many issues we would come to have throughout the internship.
  2. You have a negative or uncomfortable feeling about the establishment before you even accept the position. It’s easy to feel as though you should accept any and every opportunity you come across, especially when you’re having difficulty finding any internship. I did this – even though, after reading some of the articles and finding them lacking, on top of already having mixed emotions with the editor, I accepted the internship.  Because I figured that I wasn’t going to find anything else, I set myself up for failure, because those negative and uncomfortable feelings never went away.
  3. Your boss’s expectations for you change after you accept and on an almost-daily basis afterward. In my case, my internship went from being shown as a flexible, 15-hour a week to rigid 25 hour per week commitment. I would present my boss work one day, having followed up on changes or corrections he wanted to see, only to be given a new set of expectations for the same piece. On the flip side, it’s important to be able to be flexible. Just make sure that your flexibility isn’t being pushed to you bending over backwards.
  4. Your boss’s feedback is negative but vague. You’re an intern. You’re going to get things wrong. It’s almost expected that you’re going to make mistakes because of the steep learning curve. But you can’t correct your work or improve it if you receive vague feedback on where you’re going wrong. It’s frustrating for you and your employer – you don’t learn anything, and the work you present for publication doesn’t get any better.
  5. Your boss calls you stupid. This incident still burns me. I was asking my editor for clarification on his instructions (dealing with a language barrier didn’t help us in this situation), and he got frustrated with me, calling me stupid. Interns may be entry-level, but you are giving your time and energy (typically for free) to a company. You deserve to be respected. Behavior like this, especially from a boss, should never be acceptable.
  6. Your boss tries to keep making you do work after you’ve quit. When I finally left this internship, it was because I was starting a new job, one where I would not have access to the internet on a daily basis. Though I explained the circumstances to my editor and completed my remaining projects to the best of my ability and transferred them over to him, he continued to send me emails, trying to get me to reformat documents, contact sources, and do the menial tasks he didn’t want to do. After ten similar emails, I had to point blank tell him (though it was obvious from the resignation letter that I had sent a month previously and that had been active for three weeks) that I didn’t work for him anymore. He responded that “if he had known that my work ethic was so poor, he wouldn’t have hired me in the first place.”

Your internship should be beneficial to both you and the company. When the relationship is skewed to one side, no one truly benefits. Make sure you are learning each and every day. Understand that internships are a two way street. You are helping them as much as they are helping you. So if you ever feel uncomfortable or an uneasy feeling of dread when you show up to work or present your project to your boss, for fear of public degradation, it’s probably time to find a new path. You’ll be doing yourself a favor.

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Brittany Spear

Brittany Spear is a recent college graduate on a continuous search for meaning, fun, and adventure in her jobs and her life. In her spare time, she enjoys writing fiction and planning her next travel adventure. You can follow Brittany’s latest adventure on her blog.