6 Red Flags That Can Signal a Bogus Internship

By Eleanor Rose| April 11, 2017

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Finding the perfect internship is like dating.

You know “the one” is out there, but it might play hard to get. Then, just when you think you may have met a most attractive prospect, you notice an irritating quirk that you simply can’t overlook. This may be a red flag that can signal a bogus internship.

Don’t settle down with the first internship that gives you flirty eyes.

It takes two to tango, and you should be screening those positions just as rigorously as they are vetting you.

Red Flag #1: They are disorganized

When you arrive for your meeting, someone should be expecting you and guide you to the person you are scheduled to meet with. If no one seems to know anything about it, or the person is not available or late, that’s a red flag. If you are already hired and there’s no job description or someone to show you the ropes, another red flag.

Factoid: Showing the ropes originates from sailing, where senior crew members showed newbies how to work the ropes that controlled the sails.

Red Flag #2: The Internship has lots of angry exes

Have you ever met someone who claims that every single ex they’ve ever had was a complete psychopath? Have you ever considered the common denominator in that equation? Right. Let’s just say that if a closet consists solely of skeletons, you don’t want to step foot inside.

If, during your research, you find that a company or a department within a company has a high turnover rate or several angry ex-interns, it’s probably safe to assume that there’s something amiss with the company itself. Even worse, if the company has no long-term employees or past interns—red flag—walk away.

Red Flag #3: It’s too good to be true

Too-Good-to-be-True-red-flag

Intuition can be your saving grace in nearly every situation that life throws your way. If a potential boyfriend or girlfriend promises you oceanfront property or a red Lambo, you’re probably smart enough to know that you should take it with a grain of salt (especially if they, too, are living on an intern’s salary).

The same common sense should be applied to internships. If you’re offered the sun and the moon and $50 per hour, don’t believe a word of it. There are always exceptions, but as much as we would all love to be paid at this rate for our internship, it’s just not the reality in most cases. Too good to be true is a definite red flag.

Red Flag #4: It doesn’t pass the parental smell test

If you think back to those woeful days of living under your so-called “overbearing” parents’ roof, you just might recall their uncanny ability to spot a lie. They knew when another neighborhood kid was a bad seed. They could tell if you had a bad day at school, or if you were hiding candy in your room.

Parents have a sixth sense about their children, even into adulthood.

You can call it hocus pocus, but you’ve undoubtedly seen it for yourself. You know it’s real. Run your internship by your parents or a guidance counselor. They can spot red flags too. So, if you think you’ve found your perfect match, or maybe have a nagging doubt, call them for a second opinion.

Most importantly, don’t be in a rush to settle down. Play the field, and trust your instincts. If a relationship – professional or otherwise – feels fake or valueless, then it probably is.

Red Flag #5: You’re not included in meetings

The whole point of interning is to learn. If you are not included in brainstorming or planning meetings, you won’t learn much.

If they ask you to get coffee then go back to your desk, whoops, that’s a red flag.

Red Flag #6: You’re not working on anything meaningful

When you interview, look for signs that the work you will be doing is related to what your interests are. Ask whom you will be working with, what their role is and how involved you’ll be. You are there to learn, and if you aren’t working with people who can teach you something you don’t know, no real value there. Red flag.

Look for internships that pay you, even minimum wage.

That’s a good sign they value your work and they won’t waste your time. Otherwise, how will you get to work and buy lunch? Though not all unpaid internships are bogus, some are. Be sharp, ask questions and be on the lookout for these 6 red flags.

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