Not All Internships Are Created Equal

By Marina Krivonossova on November 5, 2020

Internships — they’re pretty great, right? Designed to introduce you to the professional work world, internships can offer far more benefits than you initially think. Through an internship, you can acquire new skills, learn about a company’s culture, get your foot in the door with worthwhile organizations, and see what it takes to succeed in your field of interest.

However, not all internships are created equal. There’s a dark side to the world of interning. Some “opportunities” disguising themselves as internships will be anything but rewarding, both in the short term and the long term. You might find yourself interning 40 hours a week without pay. You might catch yourself fetching coffee and lunch for your superiors in the office instead of doing any real work. You might even join a company that claims to guarantee learning and growth opportunities, only to be severely disappointed upon realizing these were nothing but empty promises.

So, how do you protect yourself from negative internship experiences while maximizing the likelihood of having positive ones? Here’s a guide to explain how you can “predict” what opportunities will be worthwhile, and which ones won’t be.

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(1) Avoid unpaid corporate internships. The corporate world is overflowing with money. When a corporation makes the conscious choice to hire full time, unpaid interns, it truly highlights the negative aspects of the corporate world and work culture. If a financially lucrative entity has no qualms with hiring someone to work for them without pay, you can already imagine how undervalued you’ll be later down the line (whether you’re an overworked and unpaid intern, or an overworked and underpaid employee).

(2) Connect with current and former interns. Before committing to an internship contract with a company, take advantage of the LinkedIn search feature to locate some individuals who’ve either finished or are in the process of finishing internship contracts with your company of interest. While managers, recruiters, and interviewers may provide you with one side of the story, the people you can trust the most are those who’ve gone through that very same internship process. Ask former and current interns what their typical day of interning looked like. Ask them what was expected of them, what projects they had to complete, what the work culture was like, and what benefits they’ve gained from their time interning. By doing this, you’ll give yourself a pretty good idea of the sort of internship you’d be dealing with, and whether pursuing such an opportunity would prove beneficial to you.

(3) Research the company on Glassdoor and similar websites. Glassdoor is a really neat website that provides users with the opportunity to review places they’ve worked, as well as check out the reviews others have left. The best thing is that the reviews are not only company-specific but also position-specific, meaning you can read about the experiences of other interns in particular. While Glassdoor reviews (and those of similar websites) might not paint an entirely accurate picture of the company and its internship positions, it’s certainly enough to give you somewhat of an idea of what you’d be working with. This is especially a useful option if you don’t feel comfortable reaching out to current/previous interns directly on LinkedIn to learn about their experiences.

(4) Ask the interviewer what in particular you’d be doing as an intern. It’s easy for an employer searching to fill an internship position to write a list of vague tasks that interns would be required to take part in. That’s why the best thing you can do at the interview stage is to ask the interviewer what sort of tasks and projects, in particular, you’d be involved in as an intern. You can even ask them to provide specific examples of things previous interns were doing (i.e. projects and assignments) to decide if this would be an internship that’s beneficial to you. A major red flag is when the interviewer can neither offer you concrete ideas of the sort of work you might take part in nor inform you of previous projects and assignments interns in that position have completed. At that point, you might as well prepare to waste months of your time in a position that hinders your personal and professional growth.

(Image via La Miko on

(5) Follow your gut. If an internship seems too good to be true, it probably is. If an internship seems like it’ll do more damage than good, then it’s probably not worth your time. If you feel like a company is exhibiting red flags, then follow your gut and apply for other opportunities. No internship is worth sacrificing your health, time, and resources that could be better funneled into an opportunity that’s actually worthwhile.

And always remember that an internship is supposed to help you learn, diversify your skillset, teach you about the work world, build your resume, and otherwise impact you positively. Don’t settle for an internship that makes you miserable.

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