The Common Challenges New Interns Face

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If you are trying to land an internship after your current school year, you should be conducting research on employers that have programs. If you've been accepted, you may be wondering what to expect.

Like most interns, you are ready to start gaining professional experience, but the first day on the job can be frustrating if your expectations are not met. No matter the circumstance, each experience you have will further your professional abilities.

As your career progresses, you'll find that you will have both good and bad experiences to learn from. If you take away lessons from each individual you interact with at each internship or job you have, you'll have succeeded in gaining experience. There are a few considerations for your first internship you should keep in mind.

Take a Rational Approach to Problems

The learning curve associated with a new job is steep, and there will inevitably be mishaps early in the process. Learn to ask questions, take a logical approach to any situation, and try not to jump to conclusions or take anything personally as you attempt to resolve concerns. Here are some common challenges interns face during the first few weeks on the job.

You'll Be Assigned the Grunt Work

First, remember that in most intern programs, people believe you should pay your dues as an intern before getting a full-time job. There is much to learn about an organization, its people, its mission, the clientele it serves, and much of that learning takes place while doing the run-of-the-mill work.

If you can change your perspective of menial tasks, you may turn a disadvantageous situation into one of advantage. For example, while making the coffee you might make some professional acquaintances. While filing documents, you can learn more about company operations.

You May Not Be Compensated for Your Work

Some internships do not offer pay for work. Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, if the company is a "for-profit" company, and you are classified as an employee, you are generally entitled to be paid for your work.

The Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division has issued a seven-factor test to determine whether an intern is an employee or not. Employee status depends upon:

  1. The extent to which the intern and the employer clearly understand that there is no expectation of compensation. Any promise of compensation, express or implied, suggests that the intern is an employee—and vice versa
  2. The extent to which the internship provides training that would be similar to that which would be given in an educational environment, including the clinical and other hands-on training provided by educational institutions
  3. The extent to which the internship is tied to the intern’s formal education program by integrated coursework or the receipt of academic credit
  4. The extent to which the internship accommodates the intern’s academic commitments by corresponding to the academic calendar
  5. The extent to which the internship’s duration is limited to the period in which the internship provides the intern with beneficial learning
  6. The extent to which the intern’s work complements, rather than displaces, the work of paid employees while providing significant educational benefits to the intern
  7. The extent to which the intern and the employer understand that the internship is conducted without entitlement to a paid job at the conclusion of the internship

The determination of whether you are an employee or not relies upon more than any single factor and can be dependent upon an intern's situation.

Be sure to discuss this with your internship program manager before accepting an internship, so that you have an understanding of your entitlements.

You Might Become Overwhelmed

It is not unusual for interns to feel overwhelmed, and many are certainly given a heavy load with minimal training. Persevere in the early stages, and give yourself some time to come up to speed. If you feel pressured by your supervisor, explain that you want to take the time necessary to do a good job and minimize mistakes.

However, if the discomfort is persistent, and you do not feel that things are getting any easier, you might want to reconsider if the internship is worth continuing.

Seek a second opinion from other interns, a colleague at work, or someone who you trust to give you a good perspective. It might be that you are being too hard on yourself and that you are performing just fine.

Your employer may have unreasonable demands for their interns. If you suspect this, talk to your intern program manager about their expectations, and for feedback on your performance. Although difficult, a frank discussion about performance and expectations shows maturity. Learning to be comfortable in this situation will help you in future performance conversations.

Little or No Feedback Creates a Challenge

Regular evaluations are vital for all employees, but particularly for interns and entry-level candidates. Employees need to know if they are doing a good job or if something needs to change. Many employers overlook the need for feedback with their interns, which places the onus on you to seek it out.

If you receive little or no feedback, ask your supervisor if you are performing adequately. It could be a casual question over coffee if you feel more comfortable with a less formal setting. This approach allows your supervisor to be less guarded about having overlooked the need to tell you how you are doing.

You can also glean insights by asking your supervisor's advice about certain work-related subjects such as how you should handle some situations you ran into.

Many challenges that you will face in the workplace are associated with approaching problems and other people in a tactful and thoughtful manner. Learning different approaches for different personalities is a key tactic for workplace productivity.

Don't Forget to Have Fun

Try to have a good time while you are experiencing your internship. An internship is a trial, and although serious, you can have a rewarding time. Too often people get so caught up in trying to impress everyone that they forget to be themselves and live a little.

Speaking of fun, be aware that some people enjoy having some fun at an intern's expense. If something you are asked to do seems a bit far fetched, it might be someone trying to get a laugh in. If it is done with humorous/non-malicious intent, try to play along. It will be a good memory later on.