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.

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Revenge Is Not the Answer: Dealing with Intern Abuse

funny dog pictures-REVENGE
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As an intern, you’re on the lowest rung of the ladder at your given internship site. Hopefully you realize this going into an organization and act accordingly. However, this doesn’t mean that abuse you may endure as a result of your intern status is acceptable.

What do you do as an intern if you find yourself being treated poorly by employees of the organization? What should you do if conflict arises between you and another intern or an employee? Here are some thoughts:

  • Focus on the work you’re there to do. The only person you have any control over in the workplace is yourself. While it is easier said than done, focus on your work and not the problem person. Don’t waste your entire internship experience, which is short-term and will go by fast, crying that “he did this” or “she did that.” Stop worrying about the trouble-maker and do what you’re there to do – gain experience and learn.
  • Always be professional. An internship is your first foray into the professional workplace. It’s unfortunate when you encounter unprofessional behavior on the part of a seasoned employee in your first experience out of the gate. However, this is your opportunity to rise above another person’s poor behavior and prove yourself to be an excellent professional-in-training. Remember, you only have control over your own behavior.
  • Be proactive. It’s always best to enter into an internship as prepared as possible. You might give some thought to dealing with workplace conflict before it happens. If you have regular meetings with your site supervisor (and hopefully you do), this could be a topic you might wish to discuss with him or her. As a mentor, what suggestions do they have for dealing with co-worker conflicts? Even if you don’t encounter troubles at your internship, you’re bound to encounter them at some point in your career. Remember, your internship is a learning experience and should prepare you for entering the world of work.
  • Don’t wait too long to address the issue. Even taking the first three points into consideration, it’s important to address an issue quickly before it becomes a much bigger problem. Ideally, the perpetrator isn’t your supervisor – that would be a whole different issue to tackle. Speak with your supervisor about the issue you are encountering and seek suggestions on how to handle it. Take the proactive approach and speak one-on-one with the individual you’re having difficulty with in a rational, private manner. If you’ve done your part to attempt to resolve the problem and things don’t change, then it would be appropriate to ask for your supervisor to step in.

In any case, you will always have support from the university. If you have found yourself in a bad internship, staff in Career & Leadership Development or faculty internship supervisors on campus are always willing to consult with you on strategies for dealing with the situation.


For those of you who have had an internship already, did you ever experience poor treatment from a co-worker? How did you handle the situation?