Dealing with Unreliable Internship Supervisors

By Danni White on May 17, 2017

Image via Pixabay

Let’s imagine you’re a junior in college and you go in to interview for an internship position. You like the company and feel like the perfect fit for fulfilling the job requirements. The supervisor who conducts the interview will also be the one overseeing your daily work progress and offering feedback on your performance. He seems cool, even nice to work with.

So, you’re excited and your experience starts out great. Then, three weeks into it, you realize your new boss isn’t exactly your idea of what a boss should be. He isn’t reliable or fair, forgets important things about projects, and generally gives poor supervision. Suddenly, you have an overwhelming what-the-heck-did-I-get-myself-into situation on your hands (Think “Horrible Bosses”).

If it’s any comfort, you aren’t the only one who has to deal with an unreliable or downright terrible boss. Bad bosses exist at every level of every organization. Whether you’re an intern, part-time or full-time employee, or a veteran of the work world, you will encounter a not-so-great supervisor at one point or another in your career. It’s better to know how to deal with one now than trying to navigate that icky situation later.

It is important to know that being able to rely on your supervisor is crucial to your success as an intern. This doesn’t give you permission to not do your job or voice your opinion when you see a problem or a better way to go about doing something. But reliability means you can count on your supervisor to be there for you, guide you through this new phase of your life, and provide feedback to help you improve. As an intern, your perception of the reliability of your supervisor will affect your performance.

So, here are some ways to deal with unreliable internship supervisors.

Be on time or ahead of time — on everything

When you’re motivated to learn and get lots of stuff done in a reasonably short span of time, dealing with unreliable supervisors can be frustrating. One way to counter this is to be on time or ahead of time about projects you are given as much as possible. Try to anticipate things that need to be done and if it is in your power to do them, by all means, get them done.

Be an example of reliability

It’s a bit hard to expect reliability in others if you aren’t reliable yourself. It’s like standing in a glass house and throwing stones. For whatever reason your supervisor is disorganized — poor time management skills, too many things on his plate, or just out of sync with his responsibilities — if you can be depended on to get things done and keep your word, your supervisor will recognize that and want to engage you on more projects even if he doesn’t understand the reason.

Develop your own personal power

As an intern, you don’t have the positional power to tell your supervisor what to do, or in many cases, give them the ’suggestion as command’ kind of talk. What you do have is the opportunity to develop your own personal power. This means you can take this opportunity to increase your competence, strength, and confidence that will give you the courage to help change the situation or at least open up the door for the realization that a problem exists.

Try to help wherever and whenever you can

It is very important that you don’t try to force or coerce someone to change through shame, guilt, or some other emotion. Doing this could damage your relationship with your supervisor and hinder you from getting that much-needed reference letter for a real job. Instead, offer to help when you see your supervisor has gotten behind or is otherwise disorganized. Be polite, respectful, and energetic while being assertive about moving a project forward whether they deliver on their part or not.

Set a default into requests you make of your supervisor

This can be a bit difficult since you’re supposed to be learning and the supervisor is for the most part supposed to be giving feedback and making the decisions. However, if your supervisor isn’t doing that, be sure to set a default into every request. This means even if they don’t respond to your email within 48 hours or they don’t get you necessary information or documents to finish your job, you can still get your work done effectively and efficiently.

Talk it out

Some supervisors have been unreliable for so long that they probably don’t even realize it. Still, others are very good at something else in their personal or professional lives, that no one will dare call them out on their unreliability. But if your supervisor can’t be depended on, try to let them know how you feel about it and/or how it is affecting you by asking for a brief meeting to talk about it. And if you’re granted such a meeting, be respectful. Lay out your concerns, but don’t be condescending or judgmental.

Danni White is a developmental psychology graduate student at Liberty University. She works in the digital publishing, media, and technology industries. After this degree, she will go on to work on a PhD in social psychology in which she hopes to do research on perception and social cognition’s impact on human behavior. She hopes to apply this research in corporate HR departments and community-based organizations. In her otherwise limited spare time, she blogs, writes and reads. She loves coffee, sports, music, cooking, meeting new people, and binge watching Netflix.

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