The first day at an internship can be a lot like the first day of school when growing up. You are excited to see how your new boss operates, curious to see what peers you will get along with, and overall anxious about what lies ahead. When discussing internships throughout college, we are always told “do’s and don’t’s” or “what to wear,” but the topic of how to handle an internship that may not be giving what you deserve in return is never discussed. As a college student can be intimidating and discouraging to be at an internship that doesn’t provide you with what you feel they should, so below are some things I’ve learned along the way in how to handle that type of situation.
First off, they chose YOU. You should be confident in yourself and understand they brought you on board for a reason. A first internship during your freshman or sophomore year is the best time to grow and get a feel for an office environment. Since it is your first internship, I would say it is fair to give the company a hall pass if it is not the most structured internship program. If you find yourself doing irrelevant work sometimes, take what you can from it because you can benefit in other ways from it. As an upperclassman, it is important you chose a company that will not do that and teach you real skills for your industry. Going into your senior year, you should not be at an internship that is making you hand out flyers and go on coffee runs, ESPECIALLY if it is unpaid. Even though we are just interns, that doesn’t mean you should not be treated respectfully and feel a part of the company.
It can be awkward deciding when it is the most appropriate time to say something to your boss if you feel things are out of hand. Always start off by asking for more work to do, or if there is a cool project you are interested in, let them know you are and you would like to help out in any way. Volunteer at events your company holds to show them you are interested in being a part of the company. If worse comes to worse and things still don’t get better it may be time to leave. Always leave on a good note and be professional about leaving by letting them know at least two weeks in advance like you would at a real job. Never burn bridges and always be nice know matter what the situation is.
In our field, there are a lot of unpaid internships, but at the same time you can find paid ones if you try. Internships should be exciting and a learning experience. They are not always rainbows and butterflies, but overall you should leave feeling you took some great things away.