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Landing Your First Internship: 3 Red Flags You Shouldn’t Ignore

An internship is a great opportunity to step out of the classroom and enter the workplace. It is a unique chance to apply your education to practice, try out possible career options, get acquainted with the industry and meet like-minded people. It is also a chance to learn about your workflow in a completely different, non-academic environment. 

However, landing your first internship can be frightening. Here are 3 red flags that you should pay attention to if you don’t want your first internship to be a total waste of time.

1. Bad Interview

The interview is the first opportunity for you and your potential employer to get to know each other and discuss your future cooperation. Of course, you should do your best to leave a positive impression on the employer. However, the employer should also leave an impression; you must be treated with respect. Yes, you might be a student, but you are also a potential colleague. Rescheduling your interview 5 times a day or reaching out to you 5 minutes before the online interview (speaking from personal experience) is never okay. Your time is valuable and should be treated as such. Just imagine what working in such an environment would be like!

Once you get to the interview, pay attention to the content of your conversation with the interviewer. Starting an interview with small talk and a few personal questions is alright. It breaks the ice and sets a nice flow for the conversation. However, don’t forget that it is a job interview, so most of the questions should concern your academic and professional skills and goals. If you feel like the question are irrelevant (or too personal) for the job, they probably are. The same goes for the comments. Politely complimenting you on your skills is always nice of the interviewer. But if you feel like they are crossing boundaries with their compliments, tips, or even criticism, they probably are. Would you really like to work there?

2. Payment and job prospects

First, let’s talk about the payment. You should always be fairly compensated for the hours you put into work. Your time is valuable, and every job should be paid for, even if you are just an intern. I know how tricky the aspect of payment can be. Unfortunately, it is not unusual for employers to hire students for unpaid positions. Sometimes, there is no choice. Other times, the opportunity is so great (I mean, it should be fantastic), that you feel rewarded in multiple non-financial ways. But if you need the money and you are aware that there are paid opportunities in your field, be sure you are not taken for granted. 

Future employment is another tricky question when it comes to internships. It is true that some interns receive a job offer at the end of their internship. If your employer tells you right away that this will be a short-term opportunity, it is fine. They have their own reasons that probably don’t concern you (they may be short on funding, for example). But if they tell you that you will have to prove you are an asset to the team, that is not the best attitude. It is almost impossible to prove your professional value in such a short time frame, especially with that much pressure. If the company wants to hire you, they will supervise and observe your work, rather than manipulate you into working harder for a vague maybe.

3. Tasks and responsibilities

When the company hires an intern, they should know exactly what they need a new person for. Surely, your tasks will change throughout your time there. But you must know what you will do before you begin to work. You choose the company as much as they choose you, so you deserve to know exactly what you sign up for. You might realize that the tasks are not applicable to your degree or that the employer’s expectations are too high. These are the kind of things that are best to clear in advance, so there will be no surprises. And while you work, monitor your tasks, and reach out to your work supervisor if they were not included in your job description.

Sure, most internships come with their own flaws and hardships. However, struggling a bit and being miserable are two totally different things. Always trust your gut feeling and take the time to explore your options, so that you wouldn’t get disappointed in your career early on.

Hopefully, these points will make it easier for you to land your first internship. And not just an internship, but one that you really enjoy and benefit from!

Leila Askerova

Helsinki '22

English major with a great passion for stories, slow life and all things cozy. A feminist and mental health activist, sharing thoughts and experiences through writing.
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