5 Awkward Moments You Might Have at Your Summer Internship (& How to Prepare)

Congratulations! The school year is winding down, the finals you studied so hard for are being graded, and you’re about to begin your summer internship. You have two to three months to make a strong impression on your boss and the company, but as goes with any new opportunity, there’s room for some awkward encounters, moments that you may run into that you wouldn’t normally deal with during the school year.

What should you be on the lookout for, and how should you deal in the case that something does unfortunately happen? Here are five scenarios you should be aware of before beginning your summer internship, so you don’t have to sweat it.

1. Wearing the wrong outfit

Picking out an outfit for your first day can be daunting, especially if you’re unfamiliar with the company dress code yet. Plus, it’s summer, so odds are the temperature is higher and pants sound like the last thing you’d want to wear.

However, 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 a strictly-pants office wearing a flowing dress and sandals.

What should you do?

Bring an extra pair of clothes. If you show up on your first day wearing the wrong outfit, you can apologize to your employer, explain that you were unsure of the dress code (but please, make sure this information wasn’t explicitly stated somewhere already, otherwise it’ll seem as though you’re not attentive to detail) and let them know you have other clothes with you.

Better yet, be safe rather than sorry and choose your backup outfit in the first place. If that outfit was your initial gut feeling, then go with it! If you’re experiencing some major anxiety about the dress code, you can search for photos on the company’s website or Facebook page of the employees to get a better feel for what is acceptable attire around the office.

Related: How to Nail Business Casual Beyond the Skirt Suit 

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*, a junior at Carthage College. “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 still haven’t found a clear answer, consider asking a co-worker 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 Solve Awkward Internship Moments

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*, a junior at Augustana College. “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,” Sarah continues. “I appreciated her asking and I agreed, but the entire lunch ended up being super awks. I finally realized they didn’t really want me there because they were holding back in their conversation and didn’t really know what to talk to me about because they were in a different department.”

This is not 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 most awkward lunch of your life, try to make the best of the situation. 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 co-worker who they’re close with.

Related: 5 Internship Hacks That Will Make You Unforgettable

4. Encountering alcohol during company events and outings

While your internship may only last the summer, it can be the perfect time for 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 is acceptable to have a drink, know your limits and drink very responsibly.

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.

Summer internships are just around the corner, so if you’re fortunate enough to have earned one, put your best foot forward and be prepared to tackle some awkward situations that may come your way. You’ve got this!

* Names have been changed