Confessions of a formerly disgruntled intern

I always considered myself an above-average student. I would fall asleep on my textbooks and jump for joy when professors gave extra-credit assignments. Throughout my academic career, getting excellent marks was my number one priority. That was until the prospect of finishing my degree started to loom large. Suddenly, I wasn’t working towards being on the right end of the grading curve. Instead, I was thinking about starting my career. And that is a whole new ball game.

Beefing up my CV became my number one priority. Honestly, I thought my CV was pretty balanced. I worked retail all through school, played on multiple sports teams and won academic awards. But, that wasn’t enough to get me noticed. I needed corporate work experience. I needed internships.

Countless guidance councillors, recruiters and well-meaning relatives convinced me that internships would be amazing. “You’ll get real-world experience… you’ll work on projects that make a difference… you’ll work crazy hours… you will meet people who can help your career… you’ll learn new skills…”

But, my internship experiences would not live up to the hype. They were boring. They were horrible. Here’s what I actually learned from my internships: you need them on your CV to get a job. That’s it.

From my experience, there are three main reasons that these life-changing, career-defining internships are an illusion.

  1. Internships are task-based, short-term commitments. Your job as an intern is to pick up the slack wherever possible. And when there’s no slack to pick up, you probably won’t have anything to do. I was led to believe that my internships would be crazy busy, but they weren’t. I did boring make-work projects that didn’t seem to matter to anyone. Or, I got assigned tasks that would take 15 minutes and have to go back to my supervisor for more work. After a while, I felt like I was more of a burden than a help. I really hope that doesn’t happen in “real life” because that’s certainly not what I want from my career. I want the freedom to complete projects that matter and to know that I’m heading in the right direction without someone holding my hand across the finish line.
  2. You don’t get as much feedback as you would expect. During one internship, I saw my boss a grand total of two times. I had no idea how to do my job and no support from anyone. They stuck me in a little room with a laptop and a telephone and a spreadsheet of client names and numbers, a telemarketing script and said “go.” At the end of the summer, I had my first and only check-in with my boss. Let’s just say, it didn’t go well and I would chalk up my learning from that job as -1.
  3. You don’t actually work long hours on complicated tasks. I thought that I would work like a dog for three months. Come in at the crack of dawn and leave late into the evening. Wrong. I came in at 9 and left at 4:59 because another minute of doodling and trying to look busy would have been too much to bear. During one summer, when things got particularly boring, I would listen to audiobooks while scrolling through spreadsheets so that I looked like I was working hard. Each morning, I would draw 16 little boxes on a piece of paper and check one off every half-hour. I’m the type of person that craves responsibility and challenges and I wasn’t being satisfied. So checking off that half-hour box, no matter how sad it sounds, made me feel as if I had accomplished something.

Unfortunately, I suspect my internship experiences were pretty typical. The sense of disappointment and frustration that I felt are probably familiar to many other university students and recent graduates. But, friends, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. There are companies out there that don’t just stick interns in the corner.

My internship at Jonar couldn’t be more different from my past experiences. I’ve taken on projects with senior colleagues, contributed to the design of our software and given presentations at staff meetings. The projects I work on weren’t designed to occupy my time. Instead, I work on real projects for real customers. I receive constant guidance and feedback without feeling like I’m being hand-held or micro-managed. I’ve been able to voice my opinions and have a say in what happens here. My opinions actually matter. I feel empowered every day when I come to work. And, while I’m technically an intern, I’m not treated like “the intern.”

So, for those of you who are ready to give up on your search for a fulfilling summer job that does more than just occupy space on your resume, keep plugging. Companies like Jonar are raising the bar and giving people like us a reason to believe in the internship hype.

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