Common Challenges for Interns

Internships are not without their own bumps in the road!  I’m going to cover some concerns that many interns struggle with.  However, keep in mind that all of the solutions to these common internship challenges involve talking to your supervisor and being proactive.  Your supervisor will not know what you are thinking, feeling, and experiencing until you tell him or her.  He or she will have feedback for you and practical advice for how to proceed.  You can take advantage of the wealth of experience of your supervisor and coworkers.  Don’t be intimidated to talk to your supervisor about the things that challenge you, because they are there to help.

When you do bring up issues and concerns it is smart to do so in an appreciative, direct way (remember the adage “it’s not what you say but how you say it”).

 Help!  I’m overwhelmed!

If you’re overwhelmed at your internship site, try to determine the main cause.  Do you have efficient time management skills?  Are the tasks themselves too challenging?  Are the tasks manageable, but there are too many of them? Determine if you have the time, resources, and knowledge (or knowledge available to you) to match your internship responsibilities and goals.  Once you’ve determined the cause, address your supervisor in a polite, respectful way and let her or him know what you’re experiencing and ask for advice.  The two of you should be able to determine a solution together.

My tasks aren’t challenging.

Interns are often given simple tasks as they learn the ‘lay of the land’ in the organization. This knowledge is valuable when you gain more responsibility and accomplish more complicated goals.  If you feel as though your tasks are mundane or not challenging enough, first make a conscious effort to complete all of your internship tasks in a timely manner and to the best of your ability.  Your demonstrated competence and initiative helps to build trust and will send your supervisor the message that you are ready for gained responsibility.  In addition, take the initiative to brainstorm projects ideas that interest you and also have a positive impact on the organization’s goals.  Meet with your supervisor and tell him/her some of your ideas.   It’s also important to review the goals you agreed upon as stated in your internship learning agreement.  Do the goals match up?  If not, politely bring it to your internship supervisor’s attention.  If they do and you’re still bored, it might be time to agree on additional goals.

 I don’t know how I’m doing.

The transition from student to intern can also be challenging in terms of feedback.  Students receive frequent reminders of their academic performance through grades, but feedback regarding performance in the workplace is a bit different.  All internship supervisors give feedback differently both in manner and frequency.  The simple and direct way to address being unsure of your performance is to simply ask your supervisor for specific feedback. Make sure to set up a meeting time with your supervisor that fits both of your schedules.  If the two of you have a regular meeting time you may also simply address your concern then.  Use the supervisor midterm evaluation form as an opportunity to receive feedback and identify areas for growth.

Accept any feedback you receive with an open mind and positive attitude.  If in case your supervisor gives you general positive feedback (“you’re doing great!”), ask for specific examples.  It’s important to explore areas for improvement in addition to your strengths.  The more you work on developing those areas, the more prepared you will be for your first full-time position.

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