advice for interns: uninvolved managers, attending more meetings, and more

InternMatch asked me to take a stab at answering some of the questions they hear a lot from interns, specifically:

  • How do you deal with uninvolved managers? I’m not getting enough projects assigned to me, and when I ask for direction, I get vague assignments that I’m not sure how to carry out.
  • I want to be involved in more meetings to get the most out of my experience. What is the best way to ask to be included without sounding presumptuous?
  • I earn a stipend through my internship, and I’m struggling to cover my expenses. How do I negotiate travel reimbursement to help with the situation?

They’ve posted my answers today, which you can read here.

{ 7 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonymous*

    On the first question I think it is also much more common for a mismatch in personality with an intern. (Sometimes they are foisted on supervisors without an option.) So you may have a very hands off boss and be used to jobs that are very step by step detailed or more micromanagement bosses.
    Try to come up with a plan or a project you’d like to work on or the way you think makes the most sense to you to do it. Going into a hands-off bosses office with no plan and only questions isn’t going to get you the answers you want. So walk in with a plan. And even if it is totally off base (do try though!) you’ll get a lot better guidance. Schedule 30 minutes to go over the plan and get feedback. Then make a suggestion about follow up.

    I was definitely a hands-off boss. It worked fine until I had an intern given to me that I didn’t pick. She said she’d planned events, she was a marketing major. I gave her an event to pick up and run with (it was the second year so a lot of things were already in place). I said, If you have any problems let me know. I didn’t follow up and she never told me she had any problems. Until the week before. When it became clear the event was nearly beyond saving. I learned a lot and started making all my new interns and staff check in with me once a week at least. But I had previously figured, you have a problem you speak up. So speak up!

    1. ChristineH*

      Personality mismatch was definitely the case with one of the internships I had last year! I consider myself both shy and introverted whereas the director I reported to was boisterous and a go-getter. She wanted a “self-starter”, basically someone who could just take something and run with it; I like more guidance, especially when doing something new. I ended up resigning after just a couple of months.

    2. Anon*

      But interns aren’t employees; they’re more like apprentices who are there to learn. I don’t necessarily think they should be expected to be able to jump right in and plan events (or do any other workplace task). Giving an intern an assignment and providing no training, feedback, or support is doing them an incredible disservice. And in a lot of cases I imagine it’s a recipe for failure.

  2. JT*

    I manage interns (and most say the experience with me has been good) and also have been an intern recently. And I think that both sides have to be assertive. Managers need to actually put in time to make sure interns are learning and doing. And interns should be willing to say “I’m not busy enough, can you give me more to do” or “I need feedback/guidance.”

    A very easy way for a manager to improve the intern experience is to have interns sit in on meetings in general, even ones not directly related to their work (as long as there is not particularly sensitive/confidential info being discussed). This can really give the intern a broader understanding of the industry/organization.

    Another thing is to make try to have the inter have at least one project that is moderately long-term but that is not urgent/critical. This can help fill time if there is a period when the manager can’t spend enough time with the intern. Then punctuate that with more immediate work that involved a lot of back-and-forth with the manager or other staff.

    I also try to have some standard training the interns can do (some of which is online from another organization) so if there is some downtime they can pick up skills that will be useful.

    Lastly, managers should not have interns if they can’t put in a little time. For me I frankly don’t always have enough time to sustain a full-time intern, particularly one’s with less experience who need more guidance, so I often try have them with me 2 or 3 days/week. On the other hand, less than 2 days/week is not ideal as the intern can’t get as much a sense of what’s going on and it’s harder to be in touch with them.

  3. Mike C.*

    So when you are given a project that you don’t quite understand, ask this question:

    “What are my deliverables”.

    Obviously tailor it to the company culture, but explicitly ask what is expected of you, what form it will take, when it will happen and so on. Often times this will help clear up initially murky requests.

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