An internship is a lot like a relationship -- if both parties have the other's interests at heart, it can result in a fulfilling experience. But if someone doesn't hold up their end of the commitment, it can result in a bad reference, the product suffering or a gigantic waste of time for everyone.
A good friend of mine had a bad experience at an internship because the company didn't hold up any of the promises it made when hiring her. The worst part was that she had a number of other offers from big-name places that could have given her a more valuable experience. She had implemented the guidelines on "being a good intern" that we've heard over and over in school, like taking initiative, communicating with your boss, showing interest, getting to know everyone, and remaining positive.
But sometimes, even Suzy Intern can get slighted if the company is too busy to give the intern attention or flat out refuses to give the intern a chance at any legitimate work.
On the other hand, I understand that employers are sometimes faced with lazy, disinterested interns who spend too much time on Facebook and expect everything to be handed to them without earning it.
Any possible remedies? Here is my formula for the ideal intern/employer relationship (feel free to use it for other relationships too)!
THE CHASE: Admit it -- we all want a little chase before solidifying our relationships. If things came easy, where would the fun be? Go for an internship that is a bit out of reach, because you just might get it. Plus if you go for one that you aren't that into but you know you can get, you won't perform at your highest level.
But just like other relationships, don't lie to get something out of your league, because they WILL find out and it WILL be humiliating. Challenge yourself to pursue programs you really want, and make sure the company knows how well you'd fit in that position. Be aggressive and daring, but not desperate. As for employers--take a risk, too. Don't always settle on the intern with the highest GPA or best undergrad. Look for unique qualities in each person that could contribute to your work in a new way. And when you get the intern, take a few risks on them.
TRUST: One of the biggest reasons relationships fail is because of trust. A person has to feel like their best interest is accounted for even when the other is out of town or with an ex. As an intern, you need to be trustworthy by keeping things in the company private when they need to be. When you say you'll do something by a certain time, don't make excuses. Again, DON'T LIE about a skill you have or a past job. When in journalism, you better triple check your accuracy because any mistakes will reflect badly on the company. If you lose their trust, you've lost everything. As for employers, if you promise an intern certain tasks, don't forget to uphold that promise because whether or not the intern says something, he or she wants that task. Make sure they know you value their work and aren't using them for free labor on tasks nobody else wants to do.
COMMUNICATION: A lot of breakups are a result of a lack of communication. In the age of texting as the preferred communication to talking on the phone, it has only gotten worse. Strike up a conversation about what your boss is doing and show interest in the things they're working on even if you're not involved. If you don't understand something, TELL THEM instead of making a stupid error. If you want to be involved in a project or get experience in something, tell them. Don't kiss up to them, but get to know them as people outside of their role as "boss." The best internships I've had were at places where the boss and I were open about our ideas and projects. Bosses, if you think your interns aren't living up to their promises, have a conversation about it before giving them a bad review. Let them in on what's going on with your work and the company so they feel part of the team and can get involved in more assignments.
RESPECT: Even if interns feel they're at a bad internship or they're boss is treating them poorly, there's no excuse for disrespect. You still need to come to work on time, offer help, and be positive about the tasks they give you. A bad attitude is extremely noticeable, and is sometimes more noticeable than positivity. Dress professionally and don't engage in office gossip -- especially in the office itself (duh...remember, they have the ability to monitor emails). And for employers, use interns to their fullest by giving them meaningful assignments rather than office busywork. Don't call them "intern" instead of their names (yes...people do this) and make an effort to get to know them on a personal level so they feel appreciated rather than used.
COMMITMENT: The quickest way to end a relationship is to break your commitment to each other. If you arrange to come in four days a week, you better come in four days a week unless something important comes up. Don't slowly start coming in 30 minutes late or leaving early, don't take ridiculously long lunches, and don't quit before your end date unless an emergency comes up. Bosses, don't give up on interns if they make a few mistakes and continue to challenge them.
SUPPORT: Sometimes, we as interns can get discouraged if we fumble on an assignment or get scolded for doing something wrong on accident. Even worse, interns can get discouraged if they slowly get fewer assignments or start to get "out of the loop" on office happenings. Sometimes it's nothing personal (hey, they have other things to worry about besides you, Suzy Intern!), but other times it's a passive aggressive way of saying "We don't like you." Bosses, try the compliment sandwich in situations where the intern is performing well, but didn't understand something or fell short on a task. If an intern has a new idea or suggestion, encourage them to talk to you about it and help them pursue that task. And if for whatever reason, an outside party is rude to your intern at an internship-related event or assignment, back them up to show they're valued members of the team. Interns, show your support by going the extra mile in times of crisis. If the company is facing a tough deadline or is struggling in an area, offer your help and stay an extra hour or two to show you genuinely care and aren't just doing it for your own benefit.
SATISFACTION: In the end, what matters most is if you're earning something from this relationship in the long run. Interns, are you making the most of your experience? Are you learning the things you came there to learn or are you bored 90 percent of the time? Are you happy there? Will you have something to show for your efforts? Bosses, are your interns doing assignments that are actually benefitting the company or making the higher-ups happy? Are they producing actual results rather than saying they'll do a lot of lofty things? Don't just talk the talk -- walk the walk.
PASSION: No, I don't mean the kind of passion that will get you fired. I mean passion for the cause of the company and the profession. The reason I like my current internship so much is because I fully believe in their goals and am deeply interested in the demographic they cover. So when I take work home, pitch ideas, and come in on days I'm not supposed to, it's not because I'm trying to kiss up, but because I am excited to do it. It's clear that people do their best work at jobs they genuinely care about, so do work at your internship involving topics of your interest. Interns, choose internships you will care about, ask questions, and learn the different areas of each site. Bosses, spend time with your interns to teach them from your experiences. Share your passions for the job with them and engage in discussion on the issues relevant to a career in the field.
RISK: This one is similar to "the chase," but don't forget to keep "chasing" once you've obtained the intern or internship you wanted. Keep challenging yourself and ask to be challenged. The interns that stand out most to employers are ones that took the chance and went above and beyond their predecessors. Don't do anything stupid like ask the lead anchor to go for a beer with you, but be the first to ask a tough question at a press conference.
PROGRESSION: Plain and simple -- the relationship needs to have life to it and must be going somewhere. We've all heard "Is this going anywhere?" when a relationship is fading out. We all hate that phrase because the couple enters the DTR (determine the relationship) conversation where you either have to make a big gesture like move in together or break it off. Make sure there is an end goal in mind to the relationship, like a potential contact for a future job or recommendation letter. For employers, I would hope with every intern, you see a potential new hire later on down the road. Rather than seeing them as interns, see it as a prolonged interview process for a job.