15 Signs of a Bad Internship

female intern writing

An internship gives you the opportunity to ‘try out’ your chosen career, to put into practice what you have learned in school and assess whether you like it or not. But, not every internship turns out to be good. If you have ever had an internship that turned out to be completely awful, then you know what I’m talking about.

If this hasn’t happened to you and you want to make sure it stays that way, you need to ensure that the internship you choose provides you with a high-quality experience. This experience will eventually go on your CV and if you want it to count for something you have to show evidence that you have what it takes to carry out the job.

But, how can you distinguish a good from a bad internship? This article tells you what you need to pay attention to and tips on how to make the best of some of these issues…

1. You are doing all the ‘dirty work’

You know that your internship is a waste of time because all the assignments you get are dull, boring and have no real value - no one even seems to care if you complete them or not. Your boss prefers to give you this type of busy work instead of anything more productive that can truly improve your career prospects. But, remember that you can even learn lessons from the seemingly pointless busy work they give you because the world of work requires a lot of skills that you can only acquire in a workplace.

2. No career advancement plan

No internship can guarantee much in terms of career progression despite the fact that statistics show promising results: the majority of paid interns manage to get a full-time job at the same company by the end of their internship. But, this doesn’t mean that your employer plans on keeping you.

When an employer seems unclear about potential advancement opportunities, talk to him/her upfront about the possibilities of you staying on and show your willingness to give your best. If he/she can’t give a convincing answer, the whole situation about this internship is iffy.

3. No clear authority

The company can’t provide you with work and managers are always too busy. It feels like they are not willing to invest any time to explain to you what you need to do in your role, and you are left wondering why you agreed to the internship in the first place.

To make matters worse, no one knows who to report to, and everyone is unclear about what they are doing. In this situation how is anyone supposed to know why you are there or what duties to give you?

4. You have no support

The purpose of completing an internship is to equip you with the experience and professional skills you will need in the profession you have chosen. But, if there is no one willing to offer you advice, feedback, and support, things can get tough. An employer may expect you to take the initiative but the whole point of internships are to provide education. Companies that don’t acknowledge and support your education haven’t quite figured out the value of an internship.

5. No clear goals

When an employer doesn’t give you any form of written proof - e.g. a contract - explaining the terms and conditions of the internship then something’s wrong. Before you start work, make sure to establish clear goals. These goals help to monitor employee performance throughout your tenancy and are reviewed at the end of the internship. If you don’t make this clear, both you and employer aren’t going to meet your expectations, achieve anything of value or get any valuable work experience.

6. You are excluded from meetings

Do you never get invited to meetings and group gatherings? It’s always a bad sign. Employers might choose to exclude you from some meetings for productivity purposes – it only makes sense. But, if you feel that you would benefit from the meetings and want to take a more active role in the discussions ask if you can attend as an observer. Showing that you are willing to participate in long and boring meetings is a sign that you want to stay at the company long-term and get more involved in important company decisions.

7. No training is offered

Many companies don’t take the time to establish and conduct any formal training to new interns. But, training is a crucial part of the learning experience you get in the work environment. Failure to provide any training can lead to the mismatch of your expectations and those of employers. If this happens, be proactive. Take note of any questions or comments you have and discuss these with your supervisor. Make sure that you are being honest about what you don’t know. For example, if you don’t have the experience to complete a task, say so but express your desire to acquire the experience.

8. You are covering for someone else

Were you hired to replace an employee who was just fired? You need to speak to a lawyer. Getting placed as an unpaid intern in a salaried employee’s position is illegal because this means that the employer is making money off of your unpaid labour and is taking advantage of your services for the benefit of the company.

Employers won’t tell you this, and you might not find out if it’s happening, but asking around the company, talking to your peers and carrying out some investigation can help you find out a lot about what’s going on.

9. Performing menial tasks

Does your supervisor ask you to fetch coffee for him/her on your way to work? Or does he/she tell you to get to the dry cleaner on time? Does he/she force you to do anything that’s not included in your job duties? Taking the initiative to improve your work performance is entirely different to doing chores for your boss. Not to mention it’s illegal. Refusing to do something for your boss can be scary, but having clear job expectations right from the beginning ensures that you are both on the same page.

10. You take work home

One of the reasons it’s called an internship is because all the work you are doing is being carried out within the premises of the employer. If it happens you take work at home, then it means the company is taking advantage of your good will and appetite for work. Ending up working more than those eight hours you agreed with the employer isn’t ideal. Leaving the office means that your work is done for the day, and you need to make that clear to the employer.

11. You aren’t been treated right

Everyone keeps calling you ‘the intern’ and treats you like you are at the lowest level of the professional pyramid. I mean yeah, you have just started out, and you are trying to gain work experience, but this doesn’t mean that everybody else is allowed to treat you like dirt. If you feel like you are being bullied, insulted and disrespected, you have two options. You either stand up for yourself or quit. There is no middle ground.

12. The business is at risk

Nobody likes working for an organisation that isn’t stable - or even worse is under criminal investigation. If it looks like the company is going to collapse at any minute there is really no reason to intern there. In this situation, the first person who is going to go is the last one who got hired and this is you. Figuring this out too late can have serious consequences for your career not only in terms of the quality of work experience you get but also in the time you have invested. Plus,  it doesn’t look particularly good on your CV.

13. You aren’t being challenged

If you are hoping to stay in the job after the internship is completed, it’s natural to want to challenge yourself some more. Now, you can tell whether this position is for you or not depending on the fact it gives you what you need. But if the tasks you get don’t challenge you or help you improve your skills in any way, you know it’s time to go.

14. Others people have been offered or promised jobs

When your colleagues are moving up the career ladder it might not be great news for you. If you have heard nothing about your future with the company, it probably means that the employer doesn’t intend on keeping you.

15. You’ve got a bad feeling

If you get the feeling from your colleagues that you don’t belong, they gossip about you and the whole work environment is unfriendly you are unlikely to want to stay after your internship finishes. This is more of a gut feeling, and it can happen at any stage of your career.

When you are interning for a company with all or some of the problems mentioned above you have a few options. You can speak to your supervisor about a situation that you don’t like or agree with, make friends with your coworkers, or find a mentor who is willing to help you out. However, sadly sometimes the only way to handle a bad internship sometimes is to quit.

So what would you do if you were in this situation? Let us know in the comments section below…