If you’re just starting out in your career, an internship can be a great way to gain exposure to a specific industry or field. They can give you practical experience, network capabilities and, sometimes, even a job offer.
While every internship will have advantages and disadvantages, some internships can do your career more harm than good. So it’s important to watch for signs of a bad internship — and ideally, spot them before you accept an offer.
To help you determine whether an internship will be a positive and rewarding experience for you, we have compiled a list of the top 20 signs of a bad internship.
1. No contract
One of the first signs that an internship may be in trouble is if you are not asked to sign employment contract. Even if the internship is unpaid, both the internship provider and the intern must sign a contract that outlines the working conditions and expectations of both parties. This is good practice to protect both the business and the intern.
2. Black tasks
If your internship’s primary duties include making coffee and copying, that could be a red flag. While interns may occasionally be asked to do strenuous work, if you spend most of your time on simple tasks, it may be a sign that the company is only interested in cheap labor rather than hands-on experience.
3. Lack of support
If you’re an intern just starting out in your career, the support of more experienced professionals is invaluable. After all, the professional world will be new to you and you will need guidance. So if you’re on an internship and don’t have anyone to turn to when you have questions, that could be a red flag.
4. There is no balance between work and personal life
Some companies believe that because interns have not yet “paid their dues” and are generally younger, they should work harder. And because many interns want to learn and make a good impression, they find it difficult say no when asked to work overtime. However, if your workload and working hours affect your work-life balancethis could be a red flag.
5. No supervision
Interns are usually just starting out in their careers, so it’s important that they receive proper supervision. As someone who has not yet acquired a working knowledge of the field, the industry or your duties, you will need someone to guide you through it. Even if your internship onlinethere must be some level of control.
While having a supervisor during your internship is a positive sign, it can also be a step too far. The downside is the lack of control micro management, which can hurt your experience. In order to thrive, interns need space to learn and grow. If your supervisor is a micromanager that doesn’t give you any autonomy in your tasks, that should be alarming.
7. No training
If you start an internship and are asked to perform tasks without proper training beforehand, it can be an indicator that the company is disorganized, under-resourced, or doesn’t care about the performance and development of its interns. If this is the general attitude of your current employer, then consider looking for an internship opportunity elsewhere, as it may be more beneficial for you.
8. Lack of ownership
As you begin your career, you will need to develop not only practical skills but also personal skills such as confidence and self-efficacy. The best way to do this is by outlining your accomplishments and working towards the goals you set for yourself. Being able to take responsibility for your tasks and projects is a sign of a good internship, and a lack of autonomy is a sign of a bad one.
9. Lack of clear goals
How setting goals is a critical element of success, so the internship should have clear goals. Ideally, you’ll want to outline clear performance or learning goals during your internship so you can work toward them. If your manager or the company as a whole doesn’t support you in setting and achieving these goals, it could be a sign that they aren’t invested in your success.
Starting out in the professional world as an intern can be confusing enough as you navigate new tools and tasks. But if you never know where to find the information or resources you need to do your job effectively, that’s not good. This can lead to frustration, reduced productivity, and an overall negative experience.
11. No two-way feedback
The main feature of a good internship is that the company cares about the experience of its interns. Ideally, managers or HR should consult with their interns and ask them to share their experiences. However, if the company seems uninterested in what you have to say, it can be a bad sign.
12. Low compensation
While some internship roles remain unpaid, most companies move on to offer only paid internships in order to reduce socio-economic barriers. If your internship is unpaid, it can speak to the company’s values and demonstrate how much (or little) they value diversity and equal opportunity.
13. Not learning new skills
One of the main reasons for doing an internship is to gain practical skills in the workplace. You need to feel challenged and take on tasks that align with your career goals. However, if you’re not learning anything new or developing essential skills, it might mean that an internship isn’t right for you.
14. Lack of networking capabilities
Along with gaining valuable work experience, another important benefit of an internship is gaining social capital networking. It’s true that when it comes to job opportunities, it’s often not what you know that matters, but who you know. If your internship doesn’t provide opportunities to network with professionals in your field, you may be missing out on a key component of the experience.
15. Exclusion from meetings
Meetings often discuss important topics and make decisions. For interns, attending meetings is an invaluable learning opportunity. Even a simple invitation to observe and not participate can provide valuable information. If this hasn’t been your experience and you’re getting kicked out of meetings, that could be another bad sign.
16. Frequent violation of rules
Internships provide an opportunity for entry-level workers to learn about workplace norms and behaviors. If colleagues often bending rules, then the internship may not have the most positive impact, as you would not want to pick up negative behavior. After all, following the rules at work will ensure you build a reputation as an honest, conscientious professional.
17. No mentoring
Although you may have a supervisor who monitors your performance by having a teacher is vital. One of the qualities of a good internship is having a mentor to guide you and support your professional development. If, in your case, your supervisor is only responsible for your performance without offering any real mentoring, then you may be missing out on a valuable learning opportunity.
One of the reasons for doing an internship is to learn professional etiquette and behavior at work. Although business norms vary by industry and region, professionalism is important worldwide. If you are surrounded by colleagues who are dishonest, disrespectful, gossip or other types of unprofessional conductthis should raise a red flag.
19. Low company morale
If you’re a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed intern who’s keen and motivated to join the professional world, there’s nothing worse than being part of an unmotivated team. If your coworkers are unenthusiastic about their work, it’s a clear sign of low morale—and it can be contagious.
20. Lack of respect
Everyone deserves respect, regardless of age, experience, or job level. So if you don’t feel respected as an intern, that’s not good. If coworkers don’t greet you or treat you with kindness and courtesy, it shows a lack of respect, which can negatively impact your productivity and internship experience.
Internships can be valuable in advancing your career. However, when choosing an internship, you want to make sure the experience is a positive one. Remember to consider the following when evaluating your internship experience:
- You only do small tasks or strenuous work. This may be a sign that the company does not value your development.
- You don’t feel supported. If you are still learning the job, support from senior management is key to success.
- The company is disorganized and has unclear processes. This can lead to confusing and negative experiences.
- There is no opportunity to establish professional connections.
- The company has low morale, which can bring you down and negatively affect your experience.
If you end up with a bad internship, fortunately, internships are usually temporary and short-term. However, it is always good to look for these signs in advance and choose opportunities that will be more profitable. This way you can start your career with a positive and enriching internship experience.
This article was originally published on August 9, 2017.