20 Warning Signs of a Bad Internship

Are you dealing with a bad internship? Here are some warning signs to watch out for.

Reviewed by Melina Theodorou

Signs of a bad internship such as an intern looking stressed out and handing a cup of coffee to a woman

When you’re just starting out your career, internships can be a great way to get your foot in the door of a particular industry or field. They can provide you with practical experience, networking opportunities and, sometimes, even a job offer.

While every internship will have advantages and disadvantages, some internships could do more harm than good for your career. Therefore, it’s important to look out for signs of a bad internship – and, ideally, spot them before accepting the offer.

To help you determine whether an internship will be a positive and beneficial experience for you, we’ve compiled a list of the top 20 signs of a bad internship.

signs of bad internship infographic

1. No contract

One of the very first signs that there may be an issue with an internship is if you are not asked to sign an employment contract. Even if the internship is unpaid, both the internship provider and intern should sign a contract that stipulates the working conditions and expectations of both parties. This is good practice to protect both the business and the intern.

2. Menial tasks

If the primary responsibilities of your internship include doing coffee runs and making copies, then this could be a red flag. While interns may be asked from time to time to do some busy work, if you’re spending most of your time on menial tasks this could be a sign that the company is only interested in getting low-cost labor instead of providing practical work experience.

3. Lack of support

When you’re an intern just starting out your career, support from more experienced professionals is invaluable. After all, the professional world will be new to you, and you’ll require guidance. So, if you find yourself in an internship with no one to turn to when you have questions, this could be a warning sign.

4. No work-life balance

Some companies believe that since interns haven’t yet “paid their dues” and are generally younger, then they should be putting in longer hours. And since many interns are eager to learn and to make a good impression, they find it hard to say no when asked to work overtime. However, if your workload and working hours are impacting your work life balance, this could be a red flag.

5. No supervision

Usually, interns are just starting out their careers, so it’s important that they receive proper supervision. As someone that has not yet acquired practical knowledge of the field, industry or their responsibilities, you will need someone to guide you through them. Even if your internship is online, there should be some level of supervision.

6. Micromanagement

While having a supervisor during an internship is a positive sign, it can also be taken too far. On the flip side of lack of supervision is micromanagement, which can be detrimental to your experience. In order to develop, interns need some room to learn and grow. If your supervisor is a micromanager, that will not allow you any autonomy over your tasks, this should set off alarm bells.

7. No training

If you start an internship and are asked to perform tasks without receiving proper training first, this could be an indicator that the company is disorganized, lacks resources, or doesn’t care about the performance and development of its interns. If this is the general attitude of your current employer, then consider seeking internship opportunities elsewhere as it could be more beneficial for you.

8. Lack of ownership

When launching your career, you’ll need to not only develop practical but also personal skills, like confidence and self-efficacy. The best way to do this is by outlining your achievements and working towards the goals you set for yourself. Being able to take ownership over your tasks and projects is an indicator of a good internship whilst lack of autonomy is a sign of a bad one.

9. Lack of clear goals

As goal setting is a crucial element of success, which is why an internship should have clear goals. Ideally, you’ll want to outline clear performance goals or learning objectives during your internship, so you can work towards. If your supervisor, or overall company does not support you in setting and achieving these goals, it may be a sign they are not invested in your success.

10. Disorganization

Starting out in the professional world as an intern can be confusing enough as you navigate new tools and tasks. But if you never know where to find the information or resources you need to carry out your responsibilities effectively, then this is not good. It could lead to frustration, reduced productivity, and an overall negative experience.

11. No two-way feedback

A core attribute of a good internship is that the company cares about the experience of their interns. Supervisors or the HR department should ideally check in with their interns and ask them to share their feedback on their experience. However, if it the company seems disinterested in what you have to say, this could be a bad sign.

12. Low compensation

Although some internship roles remain unpaid, most companies are moving towards only offering paid internships in order to reduce socio-economic barriers. If your internship is unpaid, this could signal the company’s values, and demonstrate how much (or little) they value diversity and equal opportunities.

13. Not learning new skills

One of the main reasons for doing an internship is to learn practical on-the-job skills. You should feel challenged and undertake tasks that align with your career goals. However, if you aren’t learning anything new or developing essential skills, this could signify that the internship isn’t a good fit for you.

14. Lack of networking opportunities

Along with gaining valuable work experience, another important advantage of doing an internship is gaining social capital through networking. It’s true that when it comes to job opportunities, it’s oftentimes not what you know, but who you know. If your internship role does not offer any opportunities to network with professionals in your field, you may be missing out on a key component of this experience.

15. Exclusion from meetings

Meetings are oftentimes where important topics are discussed, and decisions are made. For interns, being included in meetings is an invaluable opportunity to learn. Even just being invited to observe and not participate can provide valuable insight. If this has not been your experience, and you are being excluded from meetings, this may be another bad sign.

16. Frequent rule-bending

Internships provide an opportunity for entry-level workers to learn about workplace norms and behaviors. If colleagues are often bending rules, then the internship may not be the most positive influence as you wouldn’t want to pick up any negative behaviors. After all, following rules at work will ensure you build a reputation as an honest, conscientious professional.

17. No mentoring

Although you may have a supervisor monitoring your performance, having a mentor is vital. One quality of a good internship is having a mentor to guide you and support your professional development. If, in your case, your supervisor is only responsible for your work performance without offering any real mentoring, then you might be missing out on a valuable learning opportunity.

18. Unprofessionalism

One reason for doing an internship is to learn professional etiquette and how to conduct yourself in a work setting. Although business norms vary by industry and field, professionalism is universally important. If you find yourself surrounded by colleagues who are unconscientious, disrespectful and that engage in gossip, or other types of unprofessional behavior, this should raise a red flag.

19. Low company morale

If you’re a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed intern, who is engaged and motivated to join the professional world, there is nothing worse than being part of an unmotivated team. If your colleagues are unenthusiastic about their jobs, this is clear sign of low morale – and it could be contagious.

20. Lack of respect

Everyone is worthy of respect regardless of age, experience or job level. So, if you don’t feel respected as an intern, this is not good. If colleagues don’t greet you, or treat you with kindness and courtesy, this is an indicator of lack of respect, which could negatively affect your productivity and internship experience.

Key takeaways

Internships can be valuable for your career development. However, when choosing an internship, you want to make sure the experience will be positive. Remember to watch out for the following when evaluating an internship experience:

  • You’re only doing menial tasks or busy work. This could be a sign the company doesn’t value your development.
  • You don’t feel supported. When you’re still learning the job, support from higher-ups is key to success.
  • The company is disorganized and has unclear processes. This could lead to a confusing and negative experience.
  • There are no opportunities to network and make professional connections.
  • The company has low morale, which may bring you down and negatively affect your experience.


If you find yourself in a bad internship, fortunately internships are usually temporary and short-term. However, it’s always good practice to look for these signs in advance and opt for opportunities that will be more beneficial. This way you can launch your career with a positive and enriching internship experience.


This article was originally published on August 9, 2017.