Working with students who don’t like their summer internships

July 10, 2012 at 8:00 am | Posted in Intern Advice | Leave a comment
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Coach Susan Sandberg

Susan Sandberg

Educators cringe when they read articles about Diana Wang, a graduate student from Ohio, who is suing Harper’s Bazaar after her dream internship with the fashion magazine turned into a nightmare.  Other students around the country are threatening similar actions because they’re unhappy with their internships. As a career professional, you might be able to prevent such actions, which can hurt your career center’s reputation, by finding out if you have any dissatisfied students and resolving the issues before they escalate to the level of media fodder.  The following red flags indicate remedial work is necessary on your part:

  • Bored with internship:  If a student complains of boredom with his internship, contact the supervisor to find out how the student is doing. If he/she is failing to perform the assignments, “bored” may mean that the work is too difficult, and you may have to arrange additional help for your intern. Or ‘bored” may mean the work is too easy, and you might have to suggest that your student ask for more challenging assignments.  “Bored” may also mean that the internship is agreeable, but the co-workers aren’t. If that’s the case, you might have to counsel your intern on how to adjust to working with different kinds of people.
  • Difficult supervisor:  Talk with your student to find out what the problems are in order to determine if they are personal issues, such as the boss isn’t friendly (or too friendly) or are they related to assignments, including unrealistic deadlines or lack of guidance in performing the job. To improve the work relationship, your student may have to be proactive, asking the boss for feedback on completed assignments, thanking the boss for guidance, asking for more projects. The student could also volunteer to stay late to work on time-sensitive projects or come in for an extra day on a rush job, which may result in a better work relationship.
  • Menial work:  This is a tough category unless the internship description and duties have been thoroughly outlined ahead of time, which will save everyone confusion and grief. Both you and the intern have grounds to complain if the supervisor is not following the pre-ordained script. But if the intern and supervisor didn’t discuss the assignments and schedule on the first day, they should sit down—and you might have to join them to save the internship—and come up with a detailed plan of activities.  However, if the intern is a freshman or sophomore, he/she might not be able to perform skilled duties and might be asked to go for coffee. If the company is small, everyone might “pitch in” to do menial jobs, and your intern should, too.
  • Bad company:  When your intern complains that it’s a “bad company,” you’ll have to do some detective work to find out what that means. Your student may find the corporate culture is not compatible with his/her personality.  Talk at the lunch table may be about children, families, stock options, or a sports team, which may hold no interest to a student intern. The company politics may be creating a bad feeling in your intern if the company supports Obama over Romney or vice versa. Or the student may find that the other employees are miserable with the hiring practices, such as raises, benefits, hours, etc. and feel the company is a terrible place to work. Your intern may have every reason to leave the internship.
  • Change internships:  After a few weeks in an internship, some students feel they have made a mistake and want to change internships.  They’ve heard from a friend about a better internship in a different company. It’s your job to help sort out their feelings not only to help them, but also to protect yourself from gaining the reputation of someone whose interns quit.  However,  if you’re convinced that the internship will not work, you might want to recommend that your student still take a summer internship by researching options on, which has nearly 63,000 internship listings in over 22,000 companies in 9,000 cities. Instead of telling the intern supervisor that your intern didn’t like the company, you simply say it wasn’t a good fit.

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