Tara interned in Washington, D.C., and is here to share her experience with common internship challenges.
The working world is a jungle, and the intern is at the bottom of the food chain.
There’s no doubt that the internship habitat is changing. Jobs that used to be entry-level have turned into internships with no paid vacation or benefits. The number of qualified college graduates in the job market has grown (more hooves in the watering hole). Unpaid internships are a necessary hurdle to pass in many fields to get to the paid internship.
Interning in Washington, D.C. this past year—the capital of internships and ambitious young people looking to gain experience in political offices, law firms, and non-profits—I have gained a few insights into the nature of internship positions.
Any job will have challenges, but after a year of my own internship experience and hearing friends share about their internships over happy hours, I've found that there are some common intern challenges to expect. What are the common issues of an internship? I think it is that interns are three things:
- In a race to gain experience
Here are some of the big challenges that this work environment creates.
7 Common Internship Challenges
- Not Enough Work
- Too Much Work
- Afraid to Ask Questions
- Supervisors Forget That You're New to the Field
- Competition With Other Interns
- Your Work Is Not Used
- A New Lifestyle
1. Not Enough Work
There’s not enough work assigned to you. You’re bored, underutilized, strumming your fingers at your desk, and tempted to peruse Facebook.
What to do: Sympathetic friends and parents hearing you moan about not having enough to do at work will recommend that you do your own research and create your own project. This is all very good-sounding advice, but, in practice, it’s hard to get fired up about a project that you’re not sure will be used or even looked at.
Asking your senior employees if you can help with their projects is fine, but it also can be embarrassing or disheartening repeatedly admitting that you have nothing to do. The best tactic I saw one of my fellow interns use was to ask employees if they have a moment to chat and give you an overview of their role in the office. As an intern, you are there to learn about the profession, and if they have a conscience, they will comply. Once you’ve got them talking about their work, try to see where you could fit in. Maybe, merely by voicing things aloud, they will be inspired to get you on board one of their longer-term projects.
2. Too Much Work
Because interns are just glad to get a foot in the door, some workplaces may take advantage of young workers by giving them very long hours of dull, repetitive work. However, from my observations, this seems to be less of an intern problem and more the experience of entry-level assistants in the legal, corporate, and banking world.
What to do: Keep your long-term career goals clearly in mind to make it all feel worth the effort.
3. Afraid to Ask Questions
All of a sudden, there's an influx of work, and you finally have the chance to prove yourself! But, you're not sure about x, y, z . . . You may feel the pressure to be an independent and self-sufficient worker, but it's so much better to clarify uncertainties!
What to do: Follow this one rule, and you will become a better worker: don't assume. My friend is a civil engineer, and her supervisor told her that his most important rule was to never assume something's right. Always check if you're not sure. You will avoid silly mistakes and crumbly bridges.
4. Supervisors Forget That You're New to the Field
Your supervisor gives you a project, but the directions don't quite make sense to you, or you're having trouble seeing the bigger picture. This goes along with "don't assume." Ask, ask, ask! It's your right as an intern, and it's their duty as a supervisor! They will be impressed that you care about doing it right the first time or learning more about the overall field.
What to do: Even if you think you've got all the directions right, a good practice is to repeat back to them the details of the project to make sure you're on the same page.
Sometimes supervisors are not located on-site. My generation is, perhaps, too comfortable with email. Email is useful when outlining complicated directions, but usually, a phone call is quicker and can communicate more. It also gives your supervisor a voice to attach to your name, thus making you more memorable.
5. Competition With Other Interns
Luckily, I've worked in groups where the interns had a collaborative relationship such that we could ask each other questions and team up on projects easily. Other office environments may not be quite so friendly, as interns might be competing for a future job opening or a good letter of recommendation. My friend Amy experienced working with a fellow intern who was a project snatcher. On days Amy was out, the other intern would complete projects Amy had been working on and turn them into the supervisor under her own name.
What to do: Just relax and stay friendly. At this stage of your career, I've been told that the most important quality you can have is to be open-minded, drama-free, and easy to work with. It's okay if you aren't the smartest and fastest worker or the ruthlessly ambitious worker. People will want to work with you because you're enjoyable to work with and have a good attitude.
6. Your Work Is Not Used
Your boss gives you a project that you finally feel will make use of your college education. But it ends up never being published, getting lost on their desk, or, whoops—there was a miscommunication between the senior staff and your project is now unnecessary. Not only is this frustrating because of your seemingly wasted time and effort, but it makes you less motivated for projects in the future.
What to do: Publish your written work online instead! Try not to look at it as wasted time and effort. Instead, see it as a resume/experience-booster. Keep a list of the tasks and projects you’ve accomplished during your time as an intern. Writing them down will help you remember what experiences you’ve had and give you the sense of completion you need to push on.
7. A New Lifestyle
If you're a recent college graduate, you may be getting used to a new lifestyle that can be quite jarring. Instead of waking up at ten and going to a few classes a day, you're sitting at a desk 9 to 5. You might be living at your parents' to save money. The hours and the new living situation clearly make socializing more difficult than before.
What to do: Don't fall into the "go home, eat, shower, sleep routine!" Schedule socializing and adventurous activities. Do what some of my friends have done to keep life spicy and full of friends:
- Join a local bowling, kickball, or other such sports team.
- Find a pub that does trivia and get a regular posse together.
- Adopt a dog: It will get you outside and lets you meet other dog owners.
- Sign up for online dating. The most popular site in my friend group is OkCupid.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
james mwango on September 26, 2018:
derrick musangwa on September 11, 2018:
thank so much
Naureen on August 22, 2018:
thanks a lot for the enlightening me. i believe i'm now well versed with the challenges and solutions to them this keeps me moving.
sarah Nakigozi on August 07, 2018:
edwin mats on June 14, 2018:
thank you so much
Farhan Rao on December 13, 2017:
This is so beneficial, Thank You
edinah boyani on July 09, 2017:
this is so encouraging thanks a lot
ruvarashe on February 15, 2017:
thank you so much
queen on October 04, 2016:
its really nice thanks a lot of that.
Matt from Sydney on September 22, 2016:
Very well written, something I can take away when our next intern comes in...
Prossy Karungi on June 22, 2016:
I think the challenges faced during internship are quite similar all over.Thanks for pointing out the possible solutions for each challenge.
Jennifer on November 10, 2015:
Thanks Thanks...! Bless you
Kristen Howe from Northeast Ohio on May 07, 2015:
Great tips for all interns entering the job workforce during their college terms. Very useful and helpful alike. Voted up!
TurningIntern on April 27, 2015:
Great article! We've just released a web series about internships, if anyone wants to check it out (for a laugh and some support!) it is at www.youtube.com/user/turningintern
Reena Dhiman on October 07, 2014:
I can relate myself to some of the challenges which you have mentioned in the hub. Great article !! Voted up!!
Chege Jacqueline on April 22, 2014:
Thank you.its perfect. Tackling MOST challenges faced by interns in a way that any reader can enjoy.
KIRAWXZ on March 05, 2014:
Looking forward for my first intern experience...
chukwunonso samuel on July 02, 2013:
great advice, your writing is edifying.
VVV on June 20, 2013:
Simone Haruko Smith from San Francisco on May 31, 2012:
Boy, does THIS ever bring back memories! I wish there were some sort of internship advocacy movement out there- don't you? Maybe there is one, but everyone is too desperate for work (ANY work!!) to really fight back against the tyranny of crappy under/unpaid internship work. Le sigh.
Maybe someday, we shall rise up.....
nforger on May 09, 2012:
I love your advice that the most valued virtues of an intern are to be open-minded, easy to work with and "drama-free." I never thought of it in quite those words but you're right - as an employer, those traits are worth a lot to me. And somehow it sends the message to both employer and intern: Relax!
Tara McNerney (author) from Washington, DC on May 01, 2012:
Thank you Danette! I did have a good internship experience - any job at any level has challenges, and I guess that's what makes us learn. =)
Danette Watt from Illinois on May 01, 2012:
I can't believe no one has commented on this hub yet! I'm being sincere when I say I thought this was very well done and had good advice. I especially liked that you added a solution to each problem/challenge. I hope your internship experience was a positive one and good luck in your career!