What to Do If Your Internship Is a Waste of Time

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When summer arrives, many college students and recent grads are starting their internships in a variety of industries and organizations. It's a time when interns are developing new knowledge and skills, improving their resumes, connecting with professionals in the field, and perhaps getting closer to being offered a full-time job after the internship is over.

As you navigate through your summer internship, you may find yourself unsatisfied with the experience, wishing you had done something else. Keep in mind that many things in life are hardly ever what they seem. You may have heard the saying "The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence." It means that most situations that are not as expected, or that someone else's situation may look much better. Most of the time, it isn't. Sometimes, it's worse.

Do your best to work through it. Being at the bottom can be trying, to say the least, but it is a life experience to learn from. However, if it becomes unbearable, there are some actions you can take.

Complete the Menial Tasks

It doesn’t matter who you are or what you do, there will always be those menial tasks that need to be done. Someone at some time is going to have to do them. As a company intern, those menial tasks may fall on your shoulders. If you are the type of person to look at a glass as half full, you could demonstrate your tenacity by smiling and getting it done.

If you find that you are answering phones, making coffee, emptying the garbage, and filing documents it may be time to discuss your internship goals with your supervisor. If you were promised another type of experience you should try to receive it.

Seek Guidance If There is No Work Planned

In order to work, there needs to be some type of guidance or plan to follow. To be successful at any internship or job, there must also be clear expectations. Without clear expectations, you'll just be wandering around the workplace looking for something to do.

Employers may have good intentions regarding their internship programs. However, they may not have fully implemented or prepared for the demands of running a program. The managers or supervisors they have assigned to the intern program may not be fully supportive of the project.

Make it your responsibility at the start of your internship to ask what the employer would like you to accomplish. Find out if there are supposed to be training scenarios, projects for you to take part in, and what your role is supposed to be.

You play as large a part in the success of your internship as the employer does. If you do not bring up the fact that you are not being used or taught anything, you will not see any improvements. If this is the case, you should talk to your supervisor about ways to keep you engaged and receiving training.

Less Than Part-Time Hours

It takes time to learn how to do anything well. You may not have been expecting a full-time work schedule, but are receiving less than you'd hoped or been told. You may not be learning all you expected because you're not working much.

If the interviewer originally told you that you would be getting approximately 25 hours per week at your internship but you find you are only getting 12, you should schedule a meeting with your supervisor to discuss the number of hours and to let them know that the internship is not meeting agreed-upon expectations. 

No Feedback or Time Spent With A Mentor

Nothing can be more frustrating than not knowing if you are meeting the expectations of your supervisor or mentor. You may be keeping yourself busy, but if you don’t have any feedback from employees designated to supervise you, then no favors are being done for you or the company.

Schedule a time to meet with your supervisor and let them know that you would like to meet regularly to go over your work and to get some feedback. These types of meetups should occur every day at first, and then become less frequent as time goes on and you meet expectations. You should then be receiving feedback at least weekly to go over your progress and set goals for the next evaluation period.

You Feel Threatened on the Job

If there is any reason that you feel threatened on the job, go to your supervisor immediately and let them know that you are being harassed. If you are a paid intern, or on a federal internship, you have the same rights as employees and are guaranteed protection from harassment by the Federal Intern Protection Act of 2019.

Unfortunately, there are no such protection regulations for unpaid interns, except in a few states, such as Delaware, who included unpaid interns in the term "employee" in January 2019, giving them the same guarantees and protections as full-time employees.

If you feel as if you are threatened or harassed as an unpaid intern (or paid), and the leadership of the company has done nothing about it, you should contact an employment lawyer.

Upon Leaving

Whatever the circumstances, if you do decide to leave your internship, try to do so in a professional manner. Ask to speak with your supervisor directly and if at all possible be prepared to give one to two weeks’ notice.

If the situation is compromising your physical safety or mental well-being, then there is no reason you cannot immediately leave and call your supervisor from safety to explain the situation and proceed from there.