trevi fountain Rome

Lessons From a Bad Internship

by Sarah Wilkinson, Class of ’17

Dear Smart Interns,

Last summer, I had an internship with a startup magazine an hour away from where I live in Virginia. Luckily, I wasn’t required to travel all the way there every day; instead, I reported and worked virtually. This allowed me to lay in bed in my pajamas and still do work for my internship.

My job was to manage and grow all the magazine’s social media pages including Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. I set my own goals at the beginning, though I didn’t know what to expect. Basically, I wanted to post twice daily to Facebook and Twitter, and once a week on Instagram, most of which would be done using pre-posting. My supervisor sent me tidbits of information and monthly profiles to help give me material to post, but there were a couple of huge problems that ultimately made the internship fail.

Stephen Mease

Career Fair, 2015. Photo by Stephen Mease

  1. I only talked to my supervisor twice on the phone, and one of those times was my interview. She was busy with all other aspects of trying to get the magazine off the ground, and I think she hoped I would figure it out more quickly than I did. Another major problem – I didn’t reach out to her either because I hate awkward phone calls.
  2. Our goals were ill-defined. Even though I set a few preliminary goals (mainly just to grow the social media pages), I never sat down and created a strategy plan, and I certainly never had a conversation with my supervisor about strategy. I posted material and that was it. I didn’t really know how to grow the pages, and that was an outshoot of another major problem.
  3. I didn’t know enough about the magazine. I didn’t understand what my supervisor was trying to accomplish on her end or even what the magazine wanted to accomplish. I knew that the magazine was intended to be a marketing tool for undiscovered talent as a way to get discovered, but I didn’t understand how this would be achieved. And truthfully, I wasn’t very invested in helping the magazine grow because I didn’t know enough about it.
  4. I didn’t ask questions. If I had taken control and asked my supervisor to sit down and talk with me about our goals and a plan of attack, I wouldn’t have spent my summer posting photos and quotes that no one was interested in reading. I somehow managed to grow the Instagram page by 1,000 people, however, this was entirely accidental.
  5. My supervisor had never had an intern before, and as a result, didn’t really know how to facilitate my work. She didn’t know what I needed to know to do a good job, and I never really told her. I spent the summer waiting for the internship to really start, and when the end of the summer came, I walked away feeling wholly unsatisfied.
Stephen Mease

Career Fair, 2015. Photo by Stephen Mease

The moral of the story is that an internship is what you make of it. My dissatisfaction with the internship was my fault. I should have taken more initiative, asked more questions, and put my fears aside and just dived in. I learned that letting my fear of failure keep me from really trying resulted in failure. I know that with my next internship, I will not make these same mistakes, and maybe that is the true value in taking on more than one internship in your time as an undergrad.

Now, go take charge of your internship. Make it work for you.