Formalities: Internships are real

Chapter 4

Having said so much about how potentially great internships are, there's more than a couple of things you need to know about them.

IMPORTANT: There's no such thing as an informal internship. It'd be no use to you. If your internship doesn't have that structure, or there's no formal process, the bottom line is no documentation means no internship.

Officially, to get credits or employment value out of an internship, there has to be a real job, and a real internship, and real value for you in this process.

Otherwise you're doing work experience under another name, without the credentials, too.

That's just insulting. Make sure your internship achieves something for you.

The basic structure for a legitimate internship is a multi-party arrangement:

College counselor/administrator Internship providerYou- Internship candidate Internship managerInternship advisor Internship supervisor

That structure means the intern can, with a bit of effort, get into relationship issues with at least five different people and two organizations.

These relationships are important. You need to see this as a pretty typical employment situation. The basic truth of the workplace is you're surrounded by professional relationships.

That said, it also means there are five people who are expecting you to do this internship properly. The reporting process is also formal, and a lot of people don't understand it.

Maybe the process isn't explained too well, or it's on a handout at the bottom of your vast oversupply of internship information. Maybe whoever's supposed to tell you doesn't understand it themselves.

Ironically, for all the hype about careerism, and dynamic interns, one of the most common problems is people dropping out of internships.

People don't show up, don't take it seriously, or just go through the motions. That means that someone has to be minding the store, making sure things are actually getting done.

The other problem, internships which aren't up to standard, is another issue. Some providers very clearly don't have a clue what they're supposed to be doing, or how to do it. Some may not even know why they're doing it, in the lower level internships. Some may be doing it because they get funding for providing internships and don't give a damn about what happens otherwise.

So all these people oversighting your internship aren't there just to get on your case. You need someone who can listen to, and deal with, your complaints.

This isn't a raffle. The internship is also a job.

So let's get real about the way these situations can pan out.

The workplace can be a tough place. Some people have no social skills. Some are pretty backward. Some managers and supervisors are basically idiots who've been practicing for a long time.

A few points:

  • For interns, this is often a warts and all experience. Problems do happen.
  • For you, as the intern, the idea is to do all this with minimum problems.
  • That doesn't mean you have to put up with anything unreasonable.
  • It does mean don't create any problems for yourself.
  • You're there to get something done, so stay focused.

Dull as that may sound, you can save yourself a lot of grief and administration issues. There's no need to louse up your degree. If patience is an option, be patient. If it's not an option, you need to know how to defend yourself.


Interns do sometimes have some things to complain about. It's complaining effectively that's the real problem.

  • If you have to complain about something, make sure you can make a good case for yourself.
  • Have some evidence, and have some backup, when you make your complaint.

Don't be overawed by the internship process, if you have a real problem. Your credibility will be based on your previous performance. So if you're doing what you're supposed to be doing, you're in a better position to make your case.

That's another important point about the formal part of the internship.

A person who's not trying won't get a lot of credibility from the administration. It's bizarre, but true, that some people really don't do themselves any favors with their internships. Some don't show up. Some cause so many problems the providers get rid of them.

Being lazy isn't too good, either. Some people do the minimum. They do their internships, more or less, but they don't actually achieve much.

Neither the provider nor the college is likely to be too impressed, because the college and the internship provider do exchange information. In full scale, proper internships, there's a reporting process. That's how you get your credits, and it's no joke.

Non-performers generate a lot of information, and it's all negative. Maybe these guys are so stupid they don't realize they're costing themselves credits.

So complaints from people who are obviously trying will get a lot more mileage, from both sides of your internship administration, than from people who obviously aren't trying.

Complaints can be about real, serious problems.

Reasons for complaints range from lousy, useless work through sexual harassment, abuse, and other enchanting workplace disasters. These are real problems, too, and they can get worse, if you don't do something about them.

For interns, the feeling of vulnerability is a problem of itself. If you're trying to start up a career, and you run into flak from day one, it's no surprise that the internship turns into a potential mess.

You need to know how to complain, if there are problems.

Ask your counselor, your supervisor, or whoever you think can help you, before you start.

You need to learn the machinery, before you start pushing the buttons. You should be clear on every part of the internship process, in self defence.

Now the other side of the equation:

Don't become a complaint.

Never give anyone any excuses to have a shot at you. You can do yourself some real damage, if people have gone to the trouble to set up an internship and you louse it up.

This is self-sabotage, and you can really trash your qualifications if you get lazy. You can also cost yourself a lot in fees.

This is why we're making such a big deal out of the Formal Process issue.

Really, you do have to have things working for you, not against you.

Some people don't realize how difficult these bureaucratic, administrative problems can be.

You'll hear a lot of talk about resolving disputes and problem solving, good outcomes, and the rest of the management vocabulary.

All of that's quite meaningless if your problems know how to play the system and you don't.

Take the time to make sure you understand the whole internship process.

You need to know:

Your rights
How the reporting system works regarding your internship
Your defence against problems
That your expectations for the internship are justified
That you'll get justice when you need it