Our college academic careers are full of encounters with THAT kid. Outrageously competitive and intent on succeeding at all costs, THAT kid makes a point of standing out… in the wrong way.
Unfortunately, THAT kid appears everywhere and your summer internship is no exception. Known as THAT intern, you’re bound to have a miserable experience if you don’t know how to handle her. While you may be able to avoid a THAT kid in a classroom setting, things can get sticky when your day will be spent working with THAT intern to complete tasks.
But fear not, you can survive a THAT intern-filled summer! By striking a balance between being calm and assertive, you will still get the most out of your internship while also retaining your sanity.
But first, what IS a THAT intern?
THAT intern arrives at the office with one objective in mind: to “win.” Whether it’s putting you down, taking all the credit for completed responsibilities or neglecting to help you out, THAT intern is determined to make herself look great, often at your expense.
“I’ve had an experience [with an intern like that],” says Kelsey Mulvey, a rising junior at Boston University. “She would mock others and tell her co-interns the wrong way to do things so we’d all look [bad]. There were times when she told me to do one thing and then later borderline yells and says to do something different.”
Kelsey’s experiences are, unfortunately, quite common among college students with internships. The encounter can be extremely annoying to the point where you may not enjoy showing up to the office every morning.
However, there are ways to contain THAT intern and make sure that she doesn’t ruin your summer internship experience. From keeping your cool to directly confronting the problem, we offer you some tips and tricks that will keep THAT intern in line.
Killing them softly… with kindness!
For many collegiettes, directly confronting THAT intern can be slightly terrifying. In many cases, however, it’s completely possible to let THAT intern be while also preventing her from interfering with your work and enthusiasm. The key? Remain calm and civil.
“As annoying as it is, it’s imperative to kill THAT intern with kindness,” advises Kelsey. “I usually say, ‘Well, I thought x because you said x.’ If your co-intern still doesn’t cool down, just say it was a misunderstanding and apologize. Even if you don’t think a situation is your fault, still apologize.”
Simply letting things slide may not be every collegiette’s preferred way of doing things, but it’s one strategy that can end up preventing unnecessary difficulties you may later face. Overreacting to THAT intern’s words and actions can affect others’ perception of you, making it a good strategy to relax and take THAT intern in stride.
“If you find yourself having issues with [a fellow intern] keep your emotions in check and remain calm,” advises Heather Huhman, founder and president of Come Recommended. “You don’t want to ruin your professional reputation because of how you react to someone else’s actions.”
To make things easier for yourself, minimize your encounters with THAT intern by distancing yourself from her. “[There was an intern who] was pretty rude to a lot of people, so I just made sure not to associate myself with her,” explains Jamie Blynn, a rising senior at George Washington University. “I separated myself from her and befriended the other intern and the people who worked there instead.”
If I choose to confront THAT intern, how do I go about it?
Of course, kindness can only take you so far with many THAT interns, leaving no other option than to confront them directly about their behavior. The key to this strategy is to remain calm, but to also be firm in establishing your boundaries.
“I wasn’t about to have another intern boss me around, so I started speaking up for myself,” recounts Jamie. “When she tried giving me work, I would say that it was for her, not me.”
In this context, remember that assertiveness and aggressiveness are two different things. While you may be tempted to lash out at THAT intern, doing so will only aggravate the situation as she is unlikely to back down. Instead, make a point of expressing yourself in a clear, honest, and composed manner.
In the case that talking to THAT intern yourself still doesn’t work, consider approaching your supervisor for help. As Huhman says, “If the situation escalates or you find that the person is affecting your ability to do your job, involve your supervisor or mentor to determine the best course of action.”
When talking to your supervisor about THAT intern, make sure that your conversation doesn't drop off into a round of gossiping that may ultimately give your supervisor the wrong impression of you. Be honest when you describe the situation, but also calmly explain how you feel and ask your supervisor for their recommendations on how to deal with your co-intern.
While you may not have much control over THAT intern’s actions, your supervisor is in a position to turn things around. The main thing, however, is to remain polite yet firm.
But watch out, don’t become THAT intern either!
THAT intern often behaves the way they do because they are unaware of how their actions affect others. Unfortunately, we are very much the same way, which can leave us in the position of becoming THAT intern ourselves, especially in an environment where we’re hoping to give others the best impression of us possible.
“Avoid being the overly competitive intern by being open to working with others and learning from them,” advises Huhman. “After all, a lot of internship projects are ones where you must work together to accomplish the task.”
At every internship and workplace, everyone on staff has different skills and backgrounds that you can take advantage of by picking up. Remember that an internship is all about the learning experience, but you won’t be able to learn all that you can by focusing on yourself and turning your internship into a competition.
What’s more, collaborating with as opposed to competing against your fellow staff workers can give you the connections you need to even more future opportunities in your field.
“Although you may feel like you’re directly competing with these folks right now, it will actually be more beneficial for your career to work cooperatively with them,” explains Huhman. “That way, you can add them to your professional network and keep in touch for opportunities in the future.”
In the end, keep everything in perspective
On that note, keep in mind that your main goal at your internship is to learn and gain the experience you need to succeed in your chosen field. While you can certainly try to stand out, your top priority should be building your skills and expanding your knowledge.
“Dealing with aggressive or highly competitive co-interns can be tricky, but you must remember to focus on what you’re really there for,” says Huhman. “[You’re there to] learn about the industry and gaining new skills. So try not to be disappointed if you don’t manage to make friends with everyone in the process.”
So instead of focusing all your energy in dealing with THAT intern, channel your frustrations into a hard work ethic. That way, you’ll not only be able to effectively stymie THAT intern, but you’ll also make sure that you get the most out of your internship.