As a college student, I was happy to get any and every workplace experience. Big mistake.
I ended up interning at places that didn’t prepare me for the workplace.
If you’re sending out application after application, and still getting no internship offers, it’s tempting to take any offer that comes your way. There’s one thing that’s worse than rejection: choosing an internship that doesn’t benefit you.
Here are three red flags to look out for when you interview with an employer for a college internship.
1. Clear Job Objectives
It’s easy to believe an employer when they promise to teach you about their industry, assign you administrative work, and invite you to sit in on crucial meetings. And, these are all useful offers. They are also red flags that by week two, you’ll be nervous about how to fill your time. Make sure your potential employer or mentor lists concrete skills and projects you’ll be working on before you sign a contract. A vague internship is a recipe for disaster.
Confirm your team members have the bandwidth to teach you and have assignments to share. Organizing excel spreadsheets is busywork, and shouldn’t take up the majority of your internship. Demand a learning space, and politely decline internship offers where you sense a disorganized internship program or a slow mentorship pace.
2. Culture Fit Can Make or Break or Your Internship Experience
I’ve seen highly intelligent peers fail at internships where they just don’t click with the mission, the team members, or the office social scene. Pay close attention to how your interviewer or future manager communicates with you, and ask about the company’s culture and day-to-day schedule. If you sense awkwardness, or a drastic difference in communication styles, move on to the next opportunity. This is especially true for paid internships, where you will be expected to understand instruction and training and thrive within the company.
Personally, I’ve left an internship feeling completely discouraged, only to realize years later that it simply wasn’t a good fit. I’ve also witnessed interns on my team struggle to understand basic office language and routines because they weren’t a good personality fit for the corporation.
Living up to your potential is up to you; it also depends on your work environment.
3. Will Your Internship Teach You Soft Skills?
Choose an internship that will teach you soft skills. Millennials have a bad reputation for lacking soft skills.
A recent survey shows that hiring managers look for the following attributes that most recent college grads lack:
When you enter a workplace and you don’t have soft skills down, you learn them by observing the culture around you. Be overly punctual and careful, and try to mimic the routines and language of your coworkers. This sounds easy, but many interns fail to be self-aware.
For example, if everyone enters a meeting about five minutes ahead of time, don’t walk in right on the dot every single time. Leave your desk at six minutes before the hour, and be seated and attentive.
Even small details–like including smiley faces and exclamation points when your superiors write serious, straightforward emails–stand out in a bad way.
Your internship should elevate and challenge you. You’ll want to bring real experience to the table at your first entry-level job.