Beware the Scary Internship

They’re out there – Bad internship programs. Like any good candidate doing your research on a potential opportunity, you pop onto Google to search for information when you see the red flags. Among the company’s website and other news, you stumble upon something you weren’t expecting: scathing reviews and stories of internships gone terribly wrong.

Scary pumpkin

What do you do if your find some scary information about an internship you’re applying or interviewing for? Here are some thoughts:

  • Be a Savvy Review Reader: When you are venting about something that has upset you, do you keep your frustration completely in check? Probably not. The same is likely true of the review writers. If you see a review that is particularly nasty, keep in mind that some of that is pure emotion. It doesn’t mean that the content isn’t true, but it does mean it might be more extreme than reality.
  • Take Note of Themes: Are you seeing the same issue coming up in a lot of the negative reviews of an internship? If one person has a particularly notable experience, it might be a fluke. If lots of people are experiencing the same thing, then there’s likely some truth in that common thread.
  • Talk with a Career Advisor: There are a couple of reasons to discuss a questionable internship opportunity with a career advisor. First, your career advisor might know about the program in question. They may know students who have participated and what their experiences were like. They may know a recruiter with the organization. They may have also heard things from fellow college career advisors. I am a member of a popular email listserv with internship professionals across the country. Discussions about internship programs – if others have heard of them or what others know about them – are very common. The second reason to talk with a career advisor is that he/she can help you process all of the information you are finding. Global advice is helpful, but personalized guidance is better.
  • Talk with Fellow Students: Online reviews can tell part of the story, but it’s nothing compared to discussing the opportunity with someone from your school who has done the internship. So how do you find a fellow student to talk with? Back to the previous point, a career advisor might be able to connect you with a former intern. Otherwise, ask around. If the internship is directly related to your major, you might ask professors in the department (particularly the departmental internship coordinator). Ask students in your classes. Even if none of them did the internship themselves, they may know people who have. This is another great example of the power of networking.

Finally, trust your gut. If all signs are pointing to trouble, don’t ignore them. Internships are important, but you don’t want to get yourself into a situation that might do more harm than good. And while there are valuable lessons to be learned from a bad internship, it’s also valuable to be able to identify a bad opportunity and make the informed decision not to pursue it.

Photo by solyanka