With the arrival of fall, some students and recent college graduates are preparing for internships. Whether it's at a high-tech company or a smaller financial firm, many enter the endeavor sharing common goals: padding their skill set, livening up their résumé with a notable company name or eventually being offered a full-time job.
Yet the early weeks of an internship can be very telling in determining if the experience resembles the original job description that attracted you to the position. Below are signs your internship is on a path to nowhere, plus what steps you can take to reverse course.
1. Little time on the clock. Your internship doesn't have to be an all-consuming affair, especially if you're taking a full slate of classes. But interning one day a week is not going to allow you to build lasting relationships or pick up the skills you're aiming for. As a regular employee, you wouldn't be productive if you worked only one day a week. The same principle applies to interns, says Heather R. Huhman, career expert and author of "Lies, Damned Lies & Internships: The Truth About Getting from Classroom to Cubicle." According to Huhman, "You're supposed to be walking away with relevant, quantifiable accomplishments." That won't happen if you're hardly around the office.
Solution: If the shortened shift is by choice, then you need to "reconsider what you're looking to get out of an internship," Huhman says. But if it's the organization imposing the schedule on you, then she advises to start looking elsewhere.
2. A flaky boss. Initially, you thought you'd get some quality time under the tutelage of your boss. You may have even passed up more lucrative internships because a close working relationship with the supervisor wasn't a guarantee. But with meetings taking up the bulk of his or her day, your boss has sparingly, if at all, made it a priority to pencil in time with you. Moreover, your boss may simply not know how to properly cultivate a healthy working relationship with an intern. According to a recent Internships.com survey of more than 300 employers and 7,300 students, only 47 percent of employers have a structured internship program.
Solution: With the power to mentor and possibly extend a job offer at the end of an internship, your boss is a critical part of the experience, Huhman notes. When addressing the lack of face time, frame your concern in a polite, non-accusatory way. Emphasize that tapping into his or her expertise was the deciding factor in choosing the company over others and that you would like to have regular interaction. "Don't just complain, always come to the table with suggestive solutions," she says.
Huhman also suggests requesting a 30-minute meeting at the end of each workweek. Just keep in mind that your boss' hectic schedule may not allot more time than that.
3. Performing only low-level tasks. Since you're at the bottom of the employee totem pole, you can expect to make copies, answer phones or perhaps get coffee. But if you're only doing menial tasks all day long, "that's when that red flag should come out," says Lauren Berger, CEO of InternQueen.com and author of "All Work, No Pay: Finding An Internship, Building Your Resume, Making Connections, and Gaining Job Experience."
Solution: At the two-week mark, request a brief meeting with your boss. Without sounding entitled, voice your appreciation for the current opportunity, but also express your desire for duties that mix the menial with the meaningful, such as sitting in on key meetings and working on company reports. "Menial tasks can be included in an internship as long as they're balanced with beneficial learning tasks for the student," Berger says.
4. Being passed over. In certain respects, working with other interns can be advantageous. If they've worked there longer, they can be a great source regarding certain company policies and procedures and serve as a valuable contact down the road. But if fellow interns become the apple of the boss's eye and are continuously chosen over you for key assignments, you won't have the chance to make a name for yourself.
Solution. Don't hesitate to let your boss know about the quality of work you're producing. Using the STAR format (Situation, Task, Action, Result), track your accomplishments throughout the week in a journal. At the end of the week, Huhman recommends sending an email to your boss detailing your positive contributions. Sending the list gives your boss insight on "exactly what you've been doing and what you're capable of doing. This is a great way to be included on those bigger assignments," she says.
Manage your expectations. While you should be optimistic about what you'll gain through the internship, don't hold an overly idealistic view. On some days, you may be designated nothing but pay-your-dues-type tasks. On others, you may have the floor to give a groundbreaking presentation to company higher-ups. Even if the internship doesn't live up to the hype, at least you'll come away knowing what you don't want your future job to be like and with the experience of having worked in a professional setting. "Students need to prepare that these internships are not all glamorous and they are a lot of work," Berger says, adding that internships can still be "a great experience to see what an actual company is like."
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