We’ve all seen the movie The Devil Wears Prada and witnessed the terrifyingly rude antics of Miranda Priestly. With comments like, “By all means move at a glacial pace. You know how that thrills me,” and “Is there some reason that my coffee isn’t here? Has she died or something?” no wonder interns are constantly on edge. Striving to satisfy a high-maintenance boss might create unnecessary tension between interns. Work environments are potentially cutthroat and competitive as is, but throw in a distant, condescending boss who is prone to play favorites and making friends with coworkers might seem like an impossibility.
On the flip side, you might run into an Emily – your fellow coworker whose desk is right across from yours. Emily seems heartless and cold – her only intention is to win over the boss. She could care less about you, your job, or even your name. The snarky comments are endless: “I’m sorry, do you have some prior commitment? Some hideous skirt convention you have to go to?” OK, so that may only happen in the fashion industry, but the negativity is possible in any work environment. So how do you deal with the competition that a Miranda-esque boss and an Emily-esque intern bring to what should be a fantastic summer experience?
Get Your Head in the Right Place
The Washington Business Journal reported that in a poll conducted by staffing company OfficeTeam, almost half of senior executives polled said that they believe employees are more competitive with their co-workers today than they were 10 years ago. Human competition is a natural phenomenon, but too much competition can be detrimental to one’s health, experience and overall enjoyment. Luckily, it is possible to completely prevent a Devil Wears Prada situation if collegiettes go into their internship experiences with their heads in the right place. Making the most of your summer internship involves being open to meeting new people, handling strange situations, and embracing the unfamiliar. Even if you are already stuck in a competitive fight with a fellow intern, there are always ways to remedy the situation. Summer internships are all about the experience and competition should never hinder the learning experience. Whether your boss is a Miranda or your fellow intern is an Emily, you can still make the most of your summer and turn any intern foes into your new, best friends all with a simple attitude change of your own.
Ally Koss, a fourth year student at Northeastern University, had a positive internship experience working as a graphic design intern for the Boston Bruins last year. She credits the fantastic, no-competition, and friendly experience to the attitudes of all of the interns. Ally said, “We had a new intern come in during May for the summer term when I had already been working as an intern for four months. I didn’t view her as a threat, but rather as a co-worker and a support system. Since I had already been there for a few months, I tried to help her get acclimated and learn the ropes. After a swhile, we became really good friends and we still keep in touch a year later.”
Ally embraced the new intern with open arms and an open mind instead of seeing her as an immediate threat to Ally’s own personal success. Ally explains, “Rather than viewing each other as ‘competition,’ I think she and I learned from each other and used each other for advice. It’s natural to want to be the ‘best’ intern, but if you view your internship as a learning experience, it’s much easier to not feel threatened by people and get the most out of your co-workers.”
Stay Polite and Civil, No Matter the Situation
Sometimes it is going to be impossible to alleviate all competition in the workplace. In an ideal office environment, sure, everyone would be completely equal and all around friendly. Unfortunately, that isn’t how it works in real life. If you are forced to deal with a competitive intern, don’t give in to any of their negativity or vicious competitive nature. Be the bigger person and always stay friendly and cordial. If you learned anything from The Devil Wears Prada, it would be to not give an unruly co-worker the satisfaction of having the upper hand. Stay classy, stay real, and most importantly stay true to yourself.
If this competitive coworker realizes that you aren’t out to get her, then she might be more willing to treat you nicely. Once you position yourself as a non-threat, try incorporating some friendly, casual conversation into your daily interactions. The conversation should stay away from any “work talk,” but should instead focus on a subject that has no competitive nature.
Your maturity and cordiality might not always do the trick. When manners don’t get you anywhere, what should you do? Collegiettes submitted some tricky intern situations that they have experienced. Louis Gaglini, the associate director for Employer Relations at Boston College, shares his tips for making the best of each scenario.
You show up on the first day of your fabulous magazine internship to find out that you will be working in a department separate from the rest of the interning team. You become unintentionally isolated, struggling to make connections with other interns. How are you going to meet people and make connections if you are working alone?
Gaglini reminds us, “There are no guarantees that internships will come with colleagues or partners. Stay focused upon the purpose of the internship – to gain exposure and visibility. There will be opportunities to regroup and catch up with fellow interns over lunch and after hours. Remember that the most important people to meet and with whom to make connections are those with influence.”
So while you may not be directly working with other interns in the office, use lunch breaks, coffee breaks and after-hours drinks to cultivate friendships. While you are working, focus on networking with your superiors, as they are the ones who will be able to help you the most in the long run.
After working extremely hard Monday through Friday to put together a last minute presentation for your boss, your fellow intern takes credit for all of your work. What should you do?
“Unfortunately, this happens sometimes,” Gaglini explains. “Usually the person managing the assignment or project knows who did the work, but will not want to place the interns in competition with each other. Simply go to that manager at the appropriate time and remind them how much you enjoyed working on the project or assignment and explain why. You don’t have to outwardly take credit, but reminding them of how much you enjoyed working on the project will consequently remind them of the work you did.”
The bottom line is to be subtle. It is important to make your feelings known, but remember the importance of appearing calm, collected, and together while at work. Don’t let your emotions cause you to act rashly. Instead, do as Gaglini suggests and gently remind your superior of the work that you have been doing. Not only will you get proper credit for the project you worked so hard on, but also communication with your manager will undoubtedly strengthen your relationship.
You are working with one other intern and unfortunately, this intern just doesn’t pull her weight. You feel as if you are working two full-time jobs, trying to make up for the unproductivity of your fellow intern. While you slave away all day, your coworker comes in late and leaves early, takes incredibly long lunch breaks, asks you to cover for her and to help with tasks that were specifically assigned to her. What is the best way to handle this situation?
Gaglini comments, “Strong managers will put a stop to it, but weaker managers don’t really know how to handle it properly. First of all, hold your ground and DON’T cover for anyone else. You have nothing to gain. If you are assigned a project jointly, insist that she pull her weight privately or let her know that you are going to take charge of it. Your work will eventually show through.”
This may not always solve the problem. Gaglini continues, “If the dynamic continues and your manager is not addressing it to your satisfaction, you may have just learned that this could be a place where you do not want to work beyond this one internship. Sometimes, that makes for a good experience – when you can find out something negative before it is too late to turn away.”
You wander into the break room to grab some water and are greeted by a fellow intern gossiping about you and your coworkers. Talk about an awkward situation. Should you address the intern or just let it slide?
This is a serious situation that should not just be shrugged off. Gaglini explains, “This is a form of workplace bullying. This type of person will eventually self-destruct. The key is to not get caught up in her game. Of course, if you observe or have some other tangible evidence of her talking about you, rely upon your Human Resources people. There are policies in place, and as an intern you have rights in the workplace to be treated fairly and with respect. If you get into her mindset, it can become a one-on-one battle, and some people will view you as part of the problem.”
Always remember that the HR department is there to help you. Don’t be afraid to talk to them if any serious problems arise among interns. Obviously HR can’t do much about petty squabbles or a heavy workload, but when things escalate to a point where they are affecting the quality of your work, consider making an HR visit.
Work WITH Rather Than Against Your Fellow Interns
While it might be your first instinct to turn an overly competitive fellow intern into your archenemy, this definitely isn’t the best choice. It is important to realize that no matter what, all interns are in the same position, so why not work with your co-workers? Just think of all the amazing things a group of cooperative interns could accomplish versus five interns who are in a constant state of competition with each other. And if you have a crazy boss, you are going to need all the support you can get.
One collegiette, who wishes to remain anonymous, had an internship last summer at a fashion magazine where her boss was very Miranda-esque. The collegiette explains, “Because of the nature of my internship, I was isolated from the other interns. That is until one day I was alone in the elevator with another intern and we quickly realized that we had some mutual college friends. We struck up a conversation, which made it so I was comfortable enough to ask her how she felt about the environment of the magazine, and she said she felt similarly treated by her boss. Rather than having a competitive moment, it was a moment for me to feel less alone and realize that no, I wasn’t a useless idiot, but that this was just the way things were run at this particular institution.”
Joining forces can be a good thing, either for emotional and moral support or collective brainstorming. It can be easy to lose sight of this in a competitive environment, but it is definitely something worth considering. And remember, competition is natural and you aren’t at your internship to make friends, but rather to gain professional experience. As Gaglini explains, “The greatest competitive hurdle is now over… You got the internship over all of the other candidates. Now it’s time to become a colleague. Competition is natural and works in some organizations, but not all. As an intern, your focus should be to gain experience, visibility and exposure. Friendships will come and do not need to be forced.”
Use your internship to improve yourself and your own experience. Gaglini emphasizes, “This is a great opportunity to mature as a young woman and a young professional. The successes will encourage you and the near misses will strengthen you. Save the competition for the industry competitors.” Sounds about right to us.