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5 Awkward Summer Internship Experiences

You’re probably settled in at your summer intership site by now, but there’s still plenty of time to make a strong impression on your boss and the company, but as with any opportunity, there’s also still plenty of room for some awkward encounters – moments that you may run into that you wouldn’t normally deal with during the school year. Since there’s still time to make this an awkward summer intership experience, here are a few scenarios to be on the lookout for, and what you can do if they happen to you. 

1. Wearing The Wrong Outfit

Picking out an outfit can be daunting, even later down the line. The company’s dress code may seem lax, or you may see employees sneaking in things that don’t adhere to it, but that doesn’t mean you should follow suit. I know pants sound like the last thing you’d want to wear right now, but you may want to think twice before reaching for some shorts and open-toed shoes. While some offices may be more relaxed than others, you don’t want to walk into the office wearing a flowy floral dress when everyone else is in muted colors, or show up in open-toed shoes when everyone else’s are closed – and unfortunately, you’re a lot more likely to be spoken to for breaking the dress code than a seasoned employee is. 

What Should You Do?

Bring an extra pair of clothes. If you show up and realize that your choice for the day wasn’t the right one, you can quickly correct it. But the safest choice if you’re unsure if you might be pushing the limits would be to choose your backup outfit in the first place. If that outfit was your initial gut feeling, then go with it! Clothing is one of the best ways to express yourself, but the office isn’t always the best place to push the envelope. 

2. Being Denied Vacation Time

If you usually go on vacation with family or friends, why should this summer be any different? Unfortunately, now that you’re an intern, it’s possible that you’ll have to miss out on a week of sun and sand.

“My parents were pressuring me to find out if I had vacation time or not, so I approached my boss kind of shyly and asked her,” says Alexa*, 21. “She laughed to herself and once she realized that I was serious, she looked at me like was an idiot and told me that interns are expected to work through the summer. Not every office may be like mine, but in that moment, I could have died of embarrassment!”

While it’s a huge bummer to be denied vacation time, it’s worth the extra digging to find out if your company outlines policies like these for interns, whether if it’s in the job description or on the company website. If you can’t find a clear answer, consider asking a coworker or another intern you’re comfortable with if they have any info.

What Should You Do?

Missing out on vacations you’re used to going on isn’t ideal, but think of all the valuable experience you’ll be walking away with at the end of the summer. If you absolutely need to know, you can consider asking the HR department.

Related: How to Ask for Time Off During Your Internship

3. Inviting Yourself To Lunch

Depending on the office culture, close employees and/or interns may go out for lunch during breaks together. However, don’t assume that this is an open invite. Lunch is a casual time for employees to unwind and bond, but if you’re not familiar with your coworkers, they probably won’t appreciate the intern tagging along.

“Near lunchtime, one of my coworkers announced to a few others that he’d like to eat at Panera,” says Sarah*, 21. “I was hungry AF and love Panera, so I said, ‘Panera sounds amazing right now!’ They looked at me kind of funny and then one of the ladies asked me if I’d like to come with, but the entire lunch ended up being super awkward.” Sarah finally realized that they were holding back in their conversation and didn’t really want her there. “They didn’t really know what to talk to me about because they were in a different department,” she adds. 

This isn’t to say that all coworkers wouldn’t appreciate going to lunch with you, but use social cues to decide when it’s appropriate. There’s nothing worse than tagging along somewhere uninvited! A good social cue is just to wait until you’re asked rather than inserting yourself into the situation, unless it’s a group of fellow interns.

What Should You Do?

If you’ve caught yourself in the most awkward lunch of your life, try to make the best of it. Instead of sitting there silent and petrified, try to engage your coworkers in conversation so they can learn a little more about you. Odds are you’ll form a better relationship and you’ll get invited along next time!

In the case you don’t invite yourself along but still would like to attend lunch with others, try feeling out the other interns and ask them out to eat. After all, it’s easier to ask others to lunch than to assume you’re invited, and they may invite a coworker who they’re close with.

4. Encountering Alcohol During Company Events

While your internship may only last the summer, many companies schedule plenty of outings or events. Depending on the company culture, these events may include alcohol. It should go without saying that if you’re underage, don’t partake in any drinking, whatsoever. If you are 21 or older, however, this creates a different scenario.

Even though the law says you can drink, you’re the intern, so it’s important to understand the company culture before ordering yourself a drink or grabbing one off the table. It may be in your best interest to sip on some water or soda and wait to see if a coworker offers you a drink, or that other of-age interns are enjoying a drink with no dispute.

What Should You Do?

If you order a drink and later feel like it’s not appropriate, don’t finish it! Instead, set the drink aside and order a water or a soda instead. Odds are no one will notice, but in case someone does, all you can do is apologize. If it’s acceptable to have a drink, know your limits and drink very responsibly.

Related: How to Be a Proactive Communicator During Your Remote Internship

5. Being The Only Intern In The Office

It’s common for there to be multiple interns at one time in an office, but you may find yourself scheduled apart from the other interns. This moment may be just as daunting and anxiety-inducing as it is awkward, especially if you’re burdened with a lot of tasks. It’s comforting to find strength within other interns, but just in case you’re braving it alone in the office, it’s important to stay calm and focus on your duties.

What Should You Do?

If you find that your task load is becoming too overwhelming, don’t be afraid to speak to your employer about it. They’ll appreciate the honesty and your focus on getting the job done right.

If you’re unsure about connecting with your coworkers, it always helps to just be yourself! They all want you to grow, and they did hire you for a reason.

It’s important to put your best foot forward, and be prepared to tackle some awkward situations that may come your way no matter where you’re at in your internship. It’s easy to fall into a feeling of comfort, and the best thing you can do if you accidentally find yourself in an awkward situation is to handle it with grace. 

* Names have been changed

Amanda graduated from Carthage College with a Bachelor's degree in both Communications and Public Relations. She also proudly served as the Editor in Chief of her college's Her Campus chapter, and as a Her Campus Editorial Intern. She is from Chicago, Illinois, which she can confirm is indeed a windy city. Today she can still be found furiously tapping away at her laptop keys and producing content for the internet. In her spare time she enjoys reading books (before watching their Netflix or movie adaptions), running for fun (yes, it can be fun) and spending time with her friends and family.
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