For any collegiette who knows (or thinks she knows) the field that she wants to pursue a career in, an internship is a must. But, not everything in life goes according to plan, and internships are no exception. Unfortunately, there are more than a few stories from collegiettes out there who had to make the best of some less than ideal situations at their internships. If anything, these intern horror stories will make an average, run of the mill internship seem like paradise—and no worries, if you find yourself in one of these situations, we’ve got some tips on how to deal!
1. Alone and Ignored
“I was the company’s first intern for that department, so they didn’t really know what to do with me. I shared an office with my boss. Once, he gave me the template and said to type up a script for a television show that would air later that week. He left the office as I did it. I finished in 10 minutes, but he didn’t come back for another two hours! He could have come back any minute so I didn’t want to use my phone or anything like that, so I sat and stared at a blank computer screen for two hours until he finally came back. They ended up not even using the script I wrote, or anything else I did at that internship,” says Amanda*, a junior at Arizona State University.
If you find yourself in a similar situation: Don’t be afraid to ask somebody else in the office for direction or clarification on what you should be doing. Additionally, if you are ever confused or left alone with no guidance, ask another member of your department for some filler tasks. Odds are, there will be at least one person who is more than willing to help you (or be more than grateful for help)!
2. No Structure
“I was given absolutely no direction during the internship. We got one assignment at the beginning of the week, which took less than one day to finish. Then, we were just expected to keep ourselves busy and know what to do. We tried asking for more assignments, and they told us that we could always clean the office. It was a bad structure, and we had a lot of wasted time,” says Alana*, a senior at Florida Atlantic University.
If you find yourself in a similar situation: Asking for additional assignments is never a bad idea, as long as you complete all primary assignments first. When an internship is on the unstructured side, suggest your own projects to gain the experience you crave. Such ambition shows that you are willing to go above and beyond expectations, and that you’re a proactive problem solver. And while menial assignments such as office cleaning may feel degrading, remember that completing smaller tasks with enthusiasm is a surefire way to prove that you’re willing to pay your dues in the industry.
3. Miscommunication in the Communications Department
“Once I worked at a communications company editing and writing articles for a number of magazines owned by the company. At the end of the summer, I eagerly awaited the publication of the magazine on which I’d primarily worked. I was so excited to see my name under the list of contributing writers! However, I was disappointed to see that someone named ‘Megan Tempest’ had been credited for my work. Apparently, after having worked there all summer, no one had actually learned my name, and assumed my last name was ‘Tempest’ because of my school email address. To this day I’m upset that I can’t put the work in my portfolio!” recounts Megan*, a Seattle University sophomore.
If you find yourself in a similar situation: Ensure that your boss knows your name by introducing yourself immediately upon the start of your internship and signing all of your work (including emails to your boss!) with your name. And if you notice a misprint or misspelling of your name in any important documents, be sure to let someone know and ask if it would be at all possible for a correction.
4. Uninformed Personal Assistant
“I had an internship with a wedding and event planner who worked from home. I was told that I would see all aspects of the wedding planning process, but I ended up doing (and only doing) her social media work. In addition, I ended up being her personal assistant and doing everything for her because she had surgery, none of which was ever mentioned. I walked her dog three times a day, picked up the dog’s poop when she had an accident in the house (which was almost every morning), went grocery shopping for her, made her bed, and a lot more. It was awful, and I felt like my talents really went to waste that summer,” says Ariel*, a University of Florida junior.
If you find yourself in a similar situation: Gently point out that your current tasks weren’t exactly what you were expecting. Let your boss know that while you don’t mind helping out, you would love to spend time on industry-specific assignments, too. After all, your boss may not even realize there’s an issue unless you tell her in a polite and clear way how you’re feeling.
5. (Not So Amusing) Amusement Park
“I was an intern for a popular amusement park by my school during spring semester. I was supposed to have weekly workshops and shadow major supervisors while working as a retail, culinary or park operations employee. I only had two workshops during my five months of working there, and I shadowed one supervisor, who was my own. I didn’t learn anything about behind-the-scenes like I was promised, and I was essentially just another retail employee. Luckily, it was paid, but it was falsely advertised to schools and students,” claims Gabrielle*, a sophomore at the University of South Florida.
If you find yourself in a similar situation: Feel free to reach out to your supervisor or somebody in charge of the intern program while it is going on. Oftentimes at organizations with big internship programs, there can be miscommunication between the actual supervisors and HR, who is advertising the program. And if nothing can be done during your internship, make sure to provide constructive feedback to the program leaders once your internship is over so that they can improve their program for future students. Letting your school know about the discrepancies between internship listings and reality can also help other students avoid a similar situation.
6. Flirting with Disaster
“I was the youngest of a dozen interns at a law firm, but that didn’t stop one of our supervisors from hitting on me almost every day. It got to the point where I had to tell another supervisor about it, and I almost left the program early. It was really creepy, and not professional at all, to say the least,” recounts Chelsea*, a sophomore at Florida State University.
If you find yourself in a similar situation: While confronting the perpetrator directly can clear any confusion about the prospects of your relationship on his or her part, we understand that doing so may be intimidating or result in an uncomfortable situation. To make sure that the overbearing supervisor doesn’t unfairly penalize you for rejecting his or her advances, immediately reach out to Human Resources or a co-worker that you know you can confide in. Workplace harassment is never acceptable and you have every right to report it.
7. Free (Full-Time) Labor
“I had an unpaid, out-of-state internship for the summer. I was staying with family, and knew that it was unpaid when I started, but I had a huge workload. I was told that I would be working 20 hours a week, but I ended up with closer to 35 or 40. I put up with it because I was getting course credit, which they were definitely using to get away with free full-time labor. I did learn a lot and am appreciative for that, but it was more time that I was originally told, and a bit more than I could chew,” says Brianna*, a Clemson University senior.
If you find yourself in a similar situation: Ask for clarification on what your hours are supposed to be, and if you are unable to manage the additional hours, you have every right to be frank and say so. If an internship is unpaid, there can even be restrictions on work hours, so be sure to check if such restrictions exist. In addition, let whoever is in charge of your course credit know that you are working more hours than originally told—that way you can at least reap the benefit of additional credit!
8. Intern… or Chauffeur?
“I had an internship with [an] interior decorator during the summer. I was so excited to start because this is what I want to do in the future, but I didn’t get the experience I thought I would. We went to a lot of meetings, conferences and events—all of which she made me drive to, in my car. I put a ton of miles on my car and ran through gas quickly, none of which she compensated me for. She totally took advantage of me and never gave me any token of appreciation for it,” recalls Jaycee*, a University of Alabama junior.
If you find yourself in a similar situation: If you notice that you are driving without compensation on a regular basis, mention it to your boss and explain that you do not have the funds to do so. Many employers will cover the cost of transportation, even if the internship is unpaid.
9. More Than Just Coffee Runs
“I was the only intern for a small office. I had to do the typical coffee run for them—two to three times a day, every day, but lunch was worse. Usually, they all brought in food and I would have to go and get it, or bring it into the kitchen (if it was delivery). If they did decide to bring in food, it would usually be a frozen meal, and I would always have to heat each one up and serve it to them, which cut time out of my own lunch. I already couldn’t eat with them, and it was a bit degrading,” says Lucy*, a University of North Florida sophomore.
If you find yourself in a similar situation: In many offices, it’s the norm for interns to have responsibilities similar to the ones described here. While helping out with menial tasks every now and then when your supervisors are busy is totally okay (and expected!), this shouldn’t make up the bulk of your experience. Try setting up a meeting with your boss; rather than being confrontational about the tasks you’ve been assigned, come up with a list of personal goals you have for the internship, whether it be things you want to learn, meetings you want to sit in on or projects you want to be a part of. Your boss will have a clearer idea of what you want to gain out of the internship, and whether or not your coffee run duties remain, you’ll hopefully have the opportunity to take part in the activities you signed up for the internship for.
10. Sketchy Errands
“I was requested to do personal errands for my boss on more than one occasion, such as pick up his dry cleaning or packages, which I normally didn’t mind. I did mind when he asked me to pick up drugs for him, and I told him that I was not comfortable with it—and he made fun of me for it,” says Bailee*, a senior at New York University.
If you find yourself in a similar situation: Whether you’re an internship or a full-time employee, you should never feel pressured into doing something that you are not comfortable doing, especially if it’s an illegal activity (but even if it’s not!). If a supervisor or employee of the company continues to harass you, talk to a higher-up or an employee of the company you can trust (he or she will be able to direct you to the proper channels to file a complaint). If necessary, put in your two weeks—it’s never worth it to stay at an internship when you’re being asked to complete inappropriate and unprofessional tasks.
Internships are super important for determining your future career path, and they give you tons of useful experience. Of course, you’ll have to learn to take the good with the bad, as even the most ideal, amazing and once-in-a-lifetime internships can lead you to a rough spot every now and then. So don’t let these internship horror stories stop you from applying for one of your own, collegiettes!
*Names have been changed