Bad Intern Experience?  Ask Madeleine

October 7, 2017 Madeleine Homan Blanchard

Dear Madeleine,

I recently interned at a company where my project charter was to “create a competency based interview process and standard operating process for talent acquisition.”

My project guide, who is head of talent acquisition, asked me instead to create an interview evaluation sheet based on competencies that were already in place and a process document for talent acquisition at a basic level.

I found many major gaps in the existing system including outdated job descriptions, different formats, etc., so I created my own template—but my project guide was only interested in looking at the interview evaluation sheets.

My internship lasted two months. During my final review with the VP of human resources, I was asked about the other deliverables—the ones my guide stopped me from doing.  My project guide never told the VP that she didn’t ask me to do them. I lost the job opportunity with them because my project was incomplete. Another intern who was less qualified ended up getting a job instead, because her guide supported her.

I feel extremely hurt and depressed. The insights I had about this company were tremendous—but to save face for my project guide in front of her boss, I never mentioned this. My guide spent only five minutes giving me feedback. She never gave me areas for improvement; just kept saying I was doing excellent work. I wrongly assumed she would help me get this job.

Ms. Depressed

Dear Ms. Depressed,

I am so sorry you had such a rotten experience with your internship.  I am not going to spend a lot of time on what you could have done differently, but will illuminate some rules of thumb for the future.  No good will come of too much regret—or “shoulda, coulda, woulda” as they say—but there is much to be learned from this experience.

First things first. I understand this experience has set you back on your heels. But when you say you are hurt, it leads me to believe you are taking this experience personally.  Stop it. You just can’t take this kind of thing personally. You have your whole career ahead of you—and if you learn this lesson now, you will be much more likely to thrive.

Internships are always a bit of gamble.  You just don’t know what kind of a sponsor you are going to get.  I know it is a big stretch for me to be a decent boss for interns. I am used to managing professionals who really don’t need me at all.   Being a great boss for interns requires the inclination to teach, pay close attention, and give feedback.  Your guide apparently had little patience and zero generosity – I would even go so far as to say she was kind of a jerk where you were concerned.

My question to you is: what made you think it was your job to help her save face?  In the future, I would say you can always tell the truth without blame or judgment – it is not your job to lie to cover for anyone at any time.  You owed her nothing as far as I can tell. If we could rewind, I would have recommended you submit the work to the VP that you did for your original charter.  In fact, I recommend you go ahead now and submit to the VP your tremendous insights for the company and whatever other work you did.  You don’t have to say anything about your guide other than she wasn’t interested in your original charter, but you were, so you did the work anyway.  It probably won’t change anything—but what do you have to lose?

I am sorry you assumed your guide would have your back. She clearly didn’t.  In fact, I would say that in the future, you can never assume anyone will have your back unless you have direct evidence they will.  Cynical?  Probably, but very real.  Better to assume the worst and be pleasantly surprised when you are wrong than the other way around.

So, Ms. Depressed, pick yourself up off the floor and get back out there! Deploy your considerable smarts and work ethic and find a guide or a boss who will appreciate what you have to offer.

Love, Madeleine

About the author

Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.

Got a question for Madeleine? Email Madeleine and look for your response here next week!

About the Author

Madeleine Homan Blanchard

Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a Master Certified Coach and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. She is coauthor of Blanchard’s Coaching Essentials training program, and several books including Leverage Your Best, Ditch the Rest, Coaching in Organizations, and Coaching for Leadership.

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