Top 3 Internship Challenges and How to Solve Them

Posted by The Editors on January 9, 2013

What happens when your internship doesn’t quite live up to your expectations? Don’t feel like doing nothing and spending your summer being miserable is your only option—here are three common internship hurdles and ways to overcome them.

Problem #1: Not enough work

Part of the reason you took the internship in the first place was to gain valuable work experience, so it can be extremely frustrating when you aren’t getting that – especially if you aren’t being paid! Interns are often faced with the problem of not having enough work, or being given “busy work” that doesn’t really add value to the company.

Solution: Be proactive.

If you find that you’re finishing projects before lunchtime, don’t spend the rest of your day on Facebook – speak up! There are most likely projects that you could be doing, and your employer might be grateful for the help. Better yet, if there is a specific department you’re interested in, grab lunch with a colleague from that department and ask about what projects she’s working on. Schedule a meeting with your boss and share your interest in helping with some of those projects—your supervisor might appreciate the initiative and you’ll be able to do work you enjoy. Just be careful about what you consider “busy work” – there’s a difference between work that is clearly meant to keep you busy, and necessary (albeit boring) tasks that are beneficial to the company and that are part of your job description.

Problem #2: Not enough direction

What if you get an assignment from your supervisor that is completely unclear – you don’t want to be annoying or get in anyone’s way, but you also have no idea what you’re doing! Do you call up your boss for what feels like the tenth time to clarify something, or try to figure it out on your own?

Solution: Don’t be afraid to ask questions

Sometimes it’s easy for supervisors to forget that you’re new to the industry, but it’s really important to reach out for help when you need it. Your employer will understand that you’re not an expert, especially if you’re starting a brand new project. Just about any employer would rather answer questions during the process than have to clean up the results of a mistake that could have been avoided. The only kinds of questions that will irritate employers are ones that have already been answered – so pay attention and take notes the first time to avoid making your boss repeat herself!  

Problem #3: Not enough feedback

It has been a few weeks, you have just the right amount of work, and don’t have any specific questions about any projects you’re working on—but you have had no feedback from your supervisor, good or bad. You really want to know if there is something you can improve upon, but you have no idea how you’re really doing – do you keep quiet and assume that no news is good news?  

Solution: Find a mentor and set up weekly meetings

The best way to get feedback is to actively seek it – set up weekly meetings with your supervisor so you can check in and make sure your expectations are aligned. Ask for feedback and ways you can improve your work. Not only will this alleviate some stress and frustration on your part, but your supervisor will also appreciate your conscientiousness. Send a repeating calendar invite so that the meeting is always in both of your calendars—this way, it won’t feel like you’re bothering your boss when you do need to talk. 

Many of these scenarios can be avoided by taking simple steps before you start your internship. To ensure that you and your employer are on the same page, communicate what you hope to gain from the internship, as well as what sort of skills you can offer and what kind of projects you’ll be working on.  Doing so will make a huge difference in your experience.

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