Top 10 Reasons Your Internship Program Sucks

More companies are engaging interns as an economical resource to increase bandwidth, inject youthful enthusiasm and as a way to “give back” to the community.

However, it seems many employers – at least in the eyes of the intern – don’t make the cut in regard to providing a rewarding internship experience; the intern leaves unfulfilled. In today’s “everybody knows everyone” world of social media, this often comes back to haunt these employers.

As our friends at Intern Bridge state, 94% of interns will vocalize their experiences through friends and social networking. So, it may be worth a little time to evaluate your internship program – and figure out if your company sucks.

Here, in no particular order, are ten reasons your internship program may need improvement:

Improperly Set Expectations

From big picture and critical items such as responsibilities, assignments and milestones, all the way down to use of the cell phone, Facebook (in a non-social media role, of course) and dress code – expectations must be properly set, from Day One of the internship.

Failure to Teach

By definition, an internship is experiential education – an extension of what is learned in the classroom, with a real world spin. Far too many internships, even those where no other major negative issues exist, get rated much lower than expected because the intern says: “I had a great time, but I didn’t learn anything.”

Not Facilitating a “Mentor” Relationship

Today’s interns aren’t looking for a Go-fer job with someone barking orders and assigning menial tasks. They crave a mentor from whom they can learn, and who in return takes an active interest in the intern’s professional growth – during, and perhaps also after, the internship.

Breakdown in Communication and Feedback

Like all team members, an intern can’t correct what they don’t know is wrong. Communication, both spontaneous and formal (on-board, mid-term and exit interviews, at a minimum), is critical to the internship experience – and by default places the intern in a “learning” environment that will greatly improve their skills.

Failure to Confirm or Deny a Career Choice

Many candidates view an internship as a chance to try a career choice on for size – an opportunity to confirm, or deny, an interest in their chosen vocation. If at the end of the internship the intern has gained no significant insight, the internship will be deemed a letdown.

Lack of Accountability and Recognition

If you fail to hold an intern accountable for timely completion of tasks, and for co-managing their own internship, you overlook a fundamental, (yet monumental in terms of learning), piece of a quality internship. Failing to recognize the intern’s hard work and contribution – especially when expectations have been exceeded – is equally damaging.

Failure to Prepare (and Assigning Busy Work)

Instead of planning out the intern’s work a day or week ahead of time, and delegating tasks important to your company and the intern, a supervisor will often assign “busy work” to get the intern “out of my hair” for a while. We guarantee this practice does not go un-noticed by your intern, and will eventually land you a negative comment on Facebook.

Missed Opportunity to Network

Networking is often a major component of business success. From the outside looking in, an engaged, ambitious intern will see your networking activity with influencers – lunches, networking meetings, and Twitter chats – and think: “Why, if I am to grow professionally during this internship, am I not included?”

Unwillingness to Listen

Internships in today’s market are proverbial “win-win” relationships – both the company and intern benefit from the experience. If the intern’s goals and career aspirations are not integrated into the learning plan from the very beginning of the internship – the internship will be considered a failure.

Failure to Compensate (and Not Just Wages)

At YouTern, we strongly support paid internships. We also understand compensation comes in many forms other than an hourly wage. Stipends, performance-based bonuses, formal mentoring by an influencer, tangible elements for a portfolio, meaningful exposure to a C-level executive’s personal network, transportation and parking expenses, and lunches – all can be considered effective, and agreeable, forms of compensation.

Creating and maintaining a positive experience for interns at your company is really no different than making sure your full-time team members feel appreciated and rewarded. And chances are your small-team culture will create an environment in which you don’t have to worry about too many issues.

However, performing an honest self-evaluation using the 10 points above may just ensure your internship program doesn’t – and won’t – suck.


Mark_AuthorAbout the Author: CEO and Founder of YouTern, Mark Babbitt is a serial entrepreneur and mentor. Mark has been quoted in the Wall Street Journal, Mashable, Forbes and regarding job search, career development, internships and higher education’s role in preparing emerging talent for the workforce. A keynote speaker and blogger, Mark’s contributions include Huffington Post,, The Daily Muse, Alltop, and Intern Advocate.

Mark has been honored to be named to GenJuice’s list of “Top 100 Most Desirable Mentors” and was recently featured on HR Examiner’s “Top 25 Trendspotters in HR” and several top blogger lists, including JobMob’s “Top Career Bloggers of 2011”. Contact Mark via email or on Twitter!



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