Academia, Internships, Organization behavior

Student internship dilemmas – a case study


Recently, I had occasion to talk with one of my students about an interesting situation that was unfolding with the student’s internship. The student is in the middle of an internship with an organization and is one of several employees in a team managed by someone I’ll call “Biff”.

According to the student, Biff started a conversation with the student about the overall quality of another full-time employee’s work, while making it clear he didn’t think much of the FTE’s work himself. The student, who had worked with the FTE daily, agreed with Biff’s assessment and said as much.

Shortly after this conversation, Biff came to the student with a request – he wanted the student to provide feedback on the FTE to Biff’s boss, who I’ll call “Skippy”. Biff then scheduled a one-on-one meeting between the student and Skippy, adding it to the student’s calendar. Biff told the student that because they were new and had fresh eyes, the input would be valuable to Skippy.

The student came to me to discuss the situation. The student wasn’t comfortable being put in this position, but believed they could not get out of the meeting. I encouraged the student to let Skippy know that they weren’t comfortable being put in this position. I also encouraged the student to let Skippy know that they didn’t feel qualified to speak about another employee’s work in this manner. If pushed for more than that, I encouraged the student to give only factual data – no personal opinions or thoughts.

A few thoughts about this situation:

Employers – Do not put interns into this position. Supervisors should document concerns about FTE performance by having discussions with other FTEs, then take them up the chain of command as needed. Asking an intern to speak to the “big boss” like this, only serves to create an environment where the intern feels exposed and alone. This doesn’t serve the organization, or the intern, well at all. The goal of most internship programs is to discover and land talent. Behaviors like this will have most interns running for the door and not looking back.

Students – Avoid offering personal opinions in situations like this. You are there to learn, get experience, and determine if the organization is a good fit for you long-term if they offer you a full-time position. Internal politics exist in every organization, you cannot avoid it. However, you can take steps to ensure your involvement in them is minimal.

I’d love to hear feedback from my readers about what I could have done differently, or any suggestions for other students who may find themselves in this situation in the future.

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