Internship red flags: how to spot a dud before you commit

By on March 27, 2013

‘Tis the season to scour indeed.com and pass on resumes to prospective employers. The summer internship hunt is in full swing and internship positions are going like hotcakes. But before going application crazy on Career Connections, there are internship warning signs all students must be aware of. Internships are supposed to provide enough work experience for the real world, so the last thing you would want is being an employer’s personal slave (the coffee intern, the copy intern, the editing intern, the list goes on). But never fear, Assistant Deans of Career Development, Jill Ferrall and Joe Catrino, help us spot the red flags of a greedy employer’s post, and find a valuable and beneficial career experience.

Jill Ferrall, the Assistant Dean of Career Development at the School of Business says keep your wits about you when corresponding with employers.

“If you send your resume and personal information and they reply back immediately with an email address that doesn’t have the company name that’s a red flag,” Ferrall said. “That says that they aren’t actually from the company you applied to. If they ask for you to provide your name or contact information, that’s a red flag because they are trying to fill a database as opposed to actually offering an internship.”

In the School of Business, it is a requirement for internships to be paid. According to Ferrall, potential employers are not only teaching interns, but are also having interns use the skills they have acquired from their business courses.

If a business internship is unpaid, that is an area of concern. “When I work with recruiters and they say that an internship is unpaid, I ask them for the specific details of the job,” said Ferrall. “So if you’re going to be doing something like cold-calling, that’s when you should absolutely be paid especially when you’re being tortured like that (laughs). There has to be a light at the end of the tunnel, if a company has you come in to be overworked with no possibility of advancement that could be a red flag too, unless you know that going into it,” she said.

Ferrall believes that internships are a “Try before you buy” opportunity for both students and employers. If a student enjoys the company or the company likes the intern it could transform into full-time position after graduation.

In the School of Communications, most students take unpaid internships for credit as well as experience and skill learning. Catrino reminds us to keep track of our hours and make sure that our internship work is three-credit-worthy, because the first red flag are companies that do not pay or keep track of credit.

“When companies come to me and say, “I need an intern. I can’t pay them but I have a lot of work for them to do and I don’t even think I can keep track of monitoring their credits,” I will pretty much turn them away,” Catrino said.

The second red flag may come up while you’re interning. The supervisor may not show up at all or doesn’t teach the intern any new and valuable skills. If a supervisor is absent for the majority of the internship that is a definite no-no.

“An internship is a learning experience, that’s what we want our students to take from it. If a supervisor is constantly on vacations or doing projects a student is not lead,” said Catrino. “At the end they are supposed to get a supervisor evaluation and at that point it doesn’t even happen.“

For fall or spring internships, students live by a strict class schedule according to Catrino. If an internship doesn’t give a student a designated schedule, it could be a major cause for concern.

“As students it’s already hard enough for them to do this balancing four or five classes,” said Catrino. “Another huge red flag is if the CEO asks students to do things beyond the job description, especially on a personal level like ‘go pick up my kids,’ or ‘go get my dry cleaning,’ I have seen that happen and students don’t know that they don’t have to do that.”

Both Catrino and Ferrall have only seen a few isolated incidents of confronting a “red-flag internship” and said they try and take care of the situation quickly and effectively.

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