Internship Red Flags & Green Flags

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Internships give students the opportunity to ‘try out’ different career paths and put into practice what you have learned in school. They offer a behind the scenes look into what industry professionals do and allow students to assess whether they could see themselves working in a specific field. 

However, not every internship is the same. Some allow for a hands-on experience into the lives of a working professional, while others assign menial tasks that add no true value or experience. Students should make sure they take the time to carefully select where they will work to assure they get the most knowledge and skills out of an internship program. 

But, how can you distinguish between a good internship and a bad one? Below, PathMatch outlines some of the telltale signs you should look out for when applying to your next internship program. 

Red Flags

Red Flag #1: You are assigned all of the ‘dirty work’ 
A red flag for any internship program is when you are seemingly assigned all the ‘dirty work’. If an employer assigns you dull, boring, and seemingly irrelevant assignments that no one ever checks up on you for, stop, and consider if this internship is really worth your time. An internship should give you insight into what a specific career path looks like and should provide some value to a company. 

However, it’s also important to understand that an intern is an entry-level position and you will likely not be assigned to the most important projects on day one. Seemingly pointless busywork may be assigned to teach you the fundamentals of the job. 

Red Flag #2: No clear authority 
If a company can’t provide you with authoritative figures that are willing to take the time to explain to you what you need to do to succeed in your position, it might be a scam. Interns add value to any company and your boss should act as a mentor. They should be eager to meet with you and willing to give you constructive feedback to best prepare you for a successful career. 

Red Flag #3: Lack of work  
Although this may seem counterintuitive, some companies struggle to assign tasks to interns. Managers may become too busy and don’t want to spend the time coming up with projects for their interns to work on and have the burden of facilitating and overseeing particular assignments. 

Red Flag #4: No formal training 
A company that’s unwilling to invest the time and resources into training their interns, may not be the best company to work for. Interns need direction and should be taught the basics before being thrown into the job. Without any formal training, it’s hard to understand what is expected of you and how to operate many different software programs that you may not have been taught how to use in school. 

One of the major benefits of an internship program is getting exposure to new tools and resources that will help propel your career. However, if your boss is unwilling to teach you how to use these tools, an internship becomes significantly less valuable as you don’t gain the necessary industry experience. 

Red Flag #5: No clear goals 
If an employer fails to provide any form of written documentation (such as a contract), you know there’s a problem. Before you begin any internship position, speak to your employer, and establish a clear set of terms and conditions so that you can better understand the goals of the program and your role as an intern. These goals will help to ensure you are getting the most out of your experience. 

So, if these are some of the main red flags with internship programs, how can you avoid these experiences and land an internship that will add value to your resume and help you grow as a young professional? Let’s go over some green flags to look for when applying to internships and tips on how to get a better feel about your potential internships.

Green Flags

Green Flag #1: Hands-on experience

A good internship will be able to provide you with meaningful experiences and hands-on opportunities that cannot be gained in a classroom. One of the easiest ways to see if an internship will provide these resources is combing through the job description. Before you take the time to apply, ask yourself: What’s in this for me? 

Does the job listing outline how the company is willing to help students expand on the knowledge they already have through educational initiatives such as team meetings, mentorship programs, or the opportunity to work on projects that will help the company's bottom line. If not, they may be looking to hire someone for coffee runs and menial data entry. 

Green Flag #2: You are respected and appreciated
Good companies should respect and appreciate their interns. This can be seen by receiving generous pay, the opportunity to take advantage of company perks, or a willingness to immerse interns in the company culture.

Although this may be hard to tell from reading a job description, you may want to take the time to run a quick Google or Glassdoor search and see what past interns said about their experiences. Although this should be taken with a grain of salt, as everyone has different experiences, it’s a quick way to see what other students thought of their experience. 

Questions to ask:

If you hope to work for a smaller company or a startup with no interns, or if you just want to get a better idea of the internship position, ask your employer questions during your interview that may help you get a feel for what you will be doing. 

Some ideas of questions to ask in an internship interview include: 

  1. Can you give me some examples of past projects other interns have worked on? 
  2. What software programs does your company work with? 
  3. How do interns benefit your company? 
  4. Will there be formal training? 

Questions like these will give you a better idea of what a company is looking for and expects out of an intern. This will save you the time and the burden of having to work for companies who simply use their interns for menial busywork. 

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