The dark side of interning


We’ve all heard them, the nightmarish, gruesome tales of innocent interns caught in the horrors of Intern Hell. “I was supposed to be learning about marketing and public relations, but all I did the entire summer was filing!” cries “Ashley”, a sophomore at an unnamed New England college.
“Brandon’s” story was even worse. “Coffee, coffee, coffee…I used to like coffee. Starbucks was like a second home to me. And then I interned last summer, and ALL I did was make coffee. What in the world does coffee have to do with financial management? I’m an econ major; I was told I was going to learn about managing retirement funds, instead I developed carpal tunnel from pouring cups of coffee from those heavy carafes! Now I can’t even smell a cup o’ joe without grimacing. What’s worse, there’s not even a Coffee Haters Anonymous in northern Illinois!”

Every year, hundreds, if not thousands of interns across the United States accept what they believe to be an ideal internship. Instead, they find they’ve entered Intern Hell.
“Intern Hell is basically an employment situation where the “intern” is hired to work on a project related to their field of interest, but ends up doing work that is completely unrelated,” says a career counselor from Costa Mesa, CA. “Internships are supposed to be short term learning opportunities, but some employers see interns as cheap labor. It’s despicable.”
According to another career counselor from a university in Iowa, Intern Hell can also include internships that start out well, with the best of intentions, but devolve into hellish experiences. “Anything can happen; site supervisors quit, get fired, become ill – next thing you know, the new supervisor comes in and doesn’t know what to do with the intern. Or, you have internships where the work itself is great, but the supervisor mistreats the intern. Whatever the case, if the intern is not working with their institution, it’s hard to avoid Intern Hell,” says the career counselor.

Fortunately for many students, most colleges have an Internship Program. University career centers work with interns prior to starting their internships to develop specific learning goals. These goals can be documented on a Learning Agreement which is typically then signed by the student, the site supervisor and the career center. (In the case of credit internships, a faculty supervisor would usually also sign the document.) Often, internships also include a mid-term evaluation and site visit. These steps help to ensure that interns receive genuine learning experiences from their internships. University career centers are often open throughout the summer and are available to support interns during their entire internship experience.

(This article is revised from my LU Career Center blog.)

1 comment on “The dark side of interning”

  1. Steven Rothberg Reply

    What a fantastic photo to go with your article! They say that a picture is worth a thousand words. After seeing that one, I definitely believe it.

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