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How to Solve Awkward Internship Moments

Posted Jul 11 2012 - 2:00pm

Internships are hard. You’re expected to be prompt each day, not make any errors and pretend that each task you’re given, even making 100 photocopies, is the groundbreaking work you’ve been waiting for all week. On top of it all, the workplace comes with its fair share of awkward moments you may never have had to deal with before.  Worried about what to do in those situations? Patricia Morgan, author of From Woe to WOW: How Resilient Women Succeed at Work is here with HC to help you through all your awkward internship moments.

Awkward Internship Moment: Running into Anna, Bill Or Joe, Or… in the bathroom, or elevator, or by the coffee machine

shock surprise woman wearing a collared button down shirt with a surprised expression on her face

We all have our work idols and maybe you are lucky enough to actually work for your idol’s company this summer. Now what do you do if you run into that super boss in the office elevator? What’s pushy and what’s not?

Morgan stresses that you should make the most of the encounter—make any conversation with your work superstar worth his or her time. Compliment some work he or she has done lately or pitch an idea for something. You get the idea. Network like a champion, and go for it! Don’t just offer bottomless compliments; be specific. Because who doesn’t love a little flattery now and then?
The conversation can go a little something like this: “Hello, my name is ______ and I’m an intern here this summer.  I just wanted to tell you that I really enjoyed reading your most recent research. It reminded me of X. Have you read it?”

Awkward Internship Moment: Requesting a Vacay

Whether it’s a trip home, or to the beach, interns are entitled to a little vacation time. Again, asking for time off can be tricky. Morgan recommends putting yourself into your boss’s shoes and getting creative when asking for time off. Requesting time off right before a large project is due or the magazine is being shipped to the printer isn’t the best idea. Look at time off from your boss’s perspective: when is the office slow? When might you not have a whole lot to do?

In terms of creativity, figure out what you can do to ease the loss of manpower while you’re away. Morgan recommends offering up front to make up the time you miss. Or find someone else, perhaps another intern, to finish up your project on time.
Once you’ve thought those things through, make sure you’re familiar with company policy. Does your company offer vacation days? Then request to speak with your boss in person and present all of your information.

Start by saying that you’d like to request time off, offer the dates, and then offer the creative solutions you’ve brainstormed. Understand that the answer may be no! It’s your best bet to keep the request for time off reasonable while you’re an intern. Plan to take off a Friday or Monday to have a long weekend rather than a weeklong trip.

Awkward Internship Moment: Moola

People are funny about money. Asking for a raise can often seem like an insurmountable task. Sometimes an internship can start unpaid but there’s an opportunity to earn some money by the end of the summer. Bringing this up halfway through the summer can potentially be incredibly awkward. Morgan lets us know how to approach this. Doing your research is key:

  • Find out what other people are being paid in your circumstance, like the average salary for other interns in your field.
  • Decide bottom-line. Are you prepared to quit if your boss won’t pay you? Do you have a back-up plan or an additional job offer?
  • Do an honest evaluation of your work. Are you really contributing enough to request turning the unpaid internship into a paid one or requesting a raise?
  • Create a list of your contributions; make sure you include all your tasks and projects.

Start the conversation with your boss with a statement like, “I’d like to speak to you about my career possibilities.” Before telling your boss that you’d like payment of any kind or a raise, make sure you’ve demonstrated your research and most importantly, stressed all of the contributions you’ve made. At the end of your spiel, end with a question like, “Is this a possibility?” That way you’ve opened the topic up for discussion without being overbearing or pushy.

If you run into any other tough situations with money just remember to politely approach your boss. For example, if you haven’t been receiving your paychecks due to some fluke, maturely request to speak with your boss and present the situation to him.

Awkward Internship Moment: Gossip girl

It’s pretty easy to get sucked into the gossip trap. You start bad mouthing someone, and it mixes up some drama. Maybe it starts as an innocent ploy to make some friends and bond with co-workers, but a few jokes about fellow intern Christie’s unflattering spandex pants can escalate quickly to talking about rumors about the boss taking those horrible pants into his own hands.

Morgan’s golden rule (it may seem simple but, really, have you actually applied it recently?) is to distinguish between good gossip and bad, and then avoid the bad. Seriously, talking about a friend’s break-up and how you’ll help her cope, with a movie night or drinks after work, is good. Talking up the aforementioned office hook-up is bad.

If someone approaches you with a rumor and says something, just respond, “That hasn’t been my experience.” Or just say that you need to get back to work. Both of these lines will help you avoid the topic altogether. Done. Gossip avoided, reputation pristine. There’s no time to start office drama as an intern; you have your hands full as it is!

Awkward Internship Moment: Speaking up

coworkers colleagues coffee break office women businesswomen chatting

What should you do if you struggle morally with an assignment? Former HC Writer Gennifer Delman had a tough situation while interning for a teen publication. After her boss assigned her to write about a band, she discovered the band’s content was not appropriate for her young audience. Understandably, this can be an exceedingly awkward situation. Should she approach her boss and tell her she doesn’t feel good about this, or proceed with the task like the diligent intern she is? Absolutely the former, but the approach is key.

Plan out what you’re going to say ahead of time.  Morgan always stresses coming to your manager prepared. Gennifer did the same. She said, "I will do this assignment as told, and I do not mean to disobey authority, but I noticed that this may not be something our brand wants to promote."

By simply drawing attention to the questionable lyrics, but stressing the assignment would be completed regardless, she protected the brand and her reputation as an intern. The results of the convo? Her boss realized the band was inappropriate and decided to nix the project. When in doubt, speak up…politely of course!

Sources
Patricia Morgan, Author of From Woe to WOW: How Resilient Women Succeed at Work
HC Writer, Gennifer Delman 

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