Internship Horrors: Tales From the Dark Side

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A girl looks into a dark alley. of internship horrors
Written by Vidhya Padmanabhan
Graphics by Gabby Krause

Internship Horrors

For a lot of people, internships can be that foot in the door to break into the workforce market. It doesn’t matter if you are fresh out of college, looking to switch careers, or trying to bridge the time gap in your resume, internships can be valuable learning experiences.  According to, there are several positive implications from internships on early-career outcomes. But what if you open the door only to find out, you have stepped into a world of internship horrors?

No amount of reading books and watching video tutorials can help you gain the skills you are seeking. That’s what internships are for. Like Nike’s famous motto ‘Just Do It’, you have to roll up your sleeves and get your hands muddy if you actually want to learn the craft.  Unfortunately, not every internship is a fairy tale with a happily ever after ending. Sometimes you might find yourself in your worst internship horror tale. Internship horrors can occur mostly in places that aren’t very sorted out when it comes to having interns. And before you know it, your dream of holding a value-adding job could vanish even before it starts to take form.

Some Internship Horrors you Might Encounter in the Dark Alley

1. Unprepared Bosses

Imagine your horror when you walk in on your first day of internship only to find out that most people aren’t even expecting you! Your internship horrors start with having to explain and perhaps remind would-be colleagues that you are the newly hired intern. That can be really awkward like one of those horror spoofs!

2. No Work

You could start your internship with dreams of contributing to the team and nailing the internship dragon. But soon you find out that all you do is check emails and play candy crush. You can’t wait to get blood on your hands but wonder where the dragons are!

3. Invisible Managers

This is one of those horror tales where the manager is invisible. Not knowing who you are working under and whom to seek out when you have questions is pretty much like getting lost in the woods. You have no idea which direction to take. Hello? Anybody home?

4. Lack of Training and Advancement

Internships are an extension of academic learning. When there is no learning and opportunities to advance, it blows out the flame inside and you might find yourself in a mirage.

5. Work Till You Die

What if there are too many dragons to slay and you don’t expect it to ever end? Filing never-ending stacks of paper and typing documents until your fingers bleed is any intern’s worst horror. Even the most courageous dragon warriors need a break!

6. No Goals

When companies don’t set up clear goals at the outset, the internship could turn into a horror maze. With no destination in sight, you may be running around in circles and slaying dragons for no reason. It is important to know why exactly you are slaying those dragons.

7. Lack of Professionalism

When companies don’t treat their interns with the same professional ethics as they would their employees, it crushes the intern’s workforce ideals. Running personal errands like groceries for your manager may not exactly be what you signed up for. Your idea was to be a dragon slayer not clean up dragon poop!

8. Sexual Harassment

This is one of the worst internship horrors any intern could encounter. When professionals try to take advantage of interns in an inappropriate way, the intern is caught in the worst horror tale. This is when you are hunted by the dragon for all the wrong reasons and your only choice is to flee. “Sorry, I can’t be a dragon slayer here. Period.” Here is an excellent article to learn more about how to protect yourself in such situations. 

A dragon about to unleash its internship horrors

When your internship becomes a battle with dragons.

What Makes the Alley Dark?

Fairy tales can turn into internship horrors for several reasons. Lack of communication and organization are some of the main culprits. When companies don’t have a clearly laid out plan for their interns, it could be a horrible waste of time for everyone. Managers who are unavailable and unwilling to invest time to explain the work to interns or coach them is another reason. Quite the opposite could also happen. Some companies decide to take advantage of cheap or free labor. Piling up excess work on interns or assigning unrelated and menial labor could dampen any intern’s spirit. Using inappropriate language, gestures or other forms of behavior towards interns could unleash the dragon of internship horrors and leave them no choice but to leave.

Weapons to Combat Some of These Internship Horrors

Your most important weapon to combat internship horrors is to start with clear goals. What do you want from an internship?  Some things you might want to consider when taking up an internship are:

  • Learning- Internships are valuable learning platforms in a professional set up.
  • Experience- It gives a taste of what your profession of choice actually is like.
  • Feeling Valued- Internships build self-esteem and boost confidence.
  • References- If you do a good job, you can get letters of recommendations from your place of internship.
  • Networking-Internships are one of the first places where you learn to build professional relationships.

Before taking up an internship, read their policies carefully and ask questions based on your goals. Find out whose team you would be on and what role you would play. It’s OK to check if they provide any kind of training or mentors. But if you really want your internship to have a fairy tale ending then it’s important to remember that an internship is not a school where everything is taught. It is a place to act professionally and be willing to learn some things on your own.  When you get your foot in the door, remember to put your nicely manicured foot forward! The first day. Every day.

In Conclusion

Many established companies may not have the time or inclination to train interns. Adding value through observation and guidance will be your best shot at having a good experience. Being self-motivated and going out of your way to learn can help you succeed. In case horrors such as inappropriate behavior or unrelated tasks creep up, then knowledge about your rights as an intern and courteously terminating the internship would be the best options. This article, 6 laws governing unpaid internships may give you a better idea. In any case, if you want to be a dragon slayer, you have to take those chances. Good luck slaying those dragons!