5 Red Flags to Look Out For In Your Internship

Posted by GradConnection

Internships are a great way to get a taster of both a particular company and wider industry as a student, upcoming or recent grad. Majority of companies run ethical and well-organised internship programs designed for you to get the most out of the experience. However, there are programs out there which take advantage of the widely accepted nature of unpaid internships. We outline five red flags you should look out for in this blog below. 

1. Not What You Signed Up for 

Perhaps the most obvious sign of a poor internship program is being relegated to do tasks that were not advertised in the internship description – in other words, the ‘dirty work.’ You are undoubtedly going to have to do some tasks as an intern that are perhaps more monotonous than you would like, but the key thing is that they provide some sort of value or learning opportunity, remain relevant to your field and are not the only thing you spend doing all day. Some common 'no-nos' are: 

  • Taking coffee orders and running errands 
  • Continuous admin work e.g. filing, menial paperwork 
  • Being excluded from team meetings 
  • No training or briefing of tasks provided 
  • Being expected to work overtime 

2. Paid or Unpaid? 

Did you know? There are rules and guidelines from the Australian Fair Work Ombudsman surrounding unpaid internships and work experience. Essentially, for an internship to be unpaid there needs to be a student/vocational placement organised by an educational institution and no existence of an employment relationship. 

What are the signs of an employment relationship? 

  • Productive work similar to what is done by paid employees is expected  
  • There are deadlines for the work the intern is producing 
  • The work completed is part of the businesses day-to-day operations 
  • The employer charges clients for work done by the intern 
  • The main benefit from the arrangement is the employer 

If your internship fits the bill of the above indicators, then an employment relationship exists and your internship should be paid. 

When is it OK for an internship to be unpaid? 

  • Primary purpose agreed to by both parties was observation, learning and skill development 
  • The main benefit from the arrangement is you as an intern 
  • The program is arranged through a university/educational institution 

For more information and example scenarios, visit the Fair Work website here.   

3. Too Many Interns 

The title is pretty self-explanatory for this point – if you’re walking into a company that is functioning on 70% interns and 30% permanent staff, odds are, it’s not a good sign. Not only will it be near impossible for employers to provide each intern with a meaningful experience, this is often a sign of interns being used as unpaid stand-ins to complete tasks instead of the company breaking out the big bucks to hire a permanent replacement/addition to their team. 

4. Disappearing Act 

A good internship program will ensure you have frequent access to a designated mentor and/or manager. If you’re experiencing a lack of guidance and rarely see your supervisor, this again prevents you from getting the optimal learning experience. A good manager will have worked with you to set long term goals and ask what you want to achieve throughout your internship with regular check-ins throughout the day. It's a good idea to try raising this issue with them by organising a meeting or chat over coffee. If this falls through, you can show your productivity by asking other team members if there are things you can help them out with.  

5. No Way Forward 

Internships are good because they give you a taster of what to expect going forward but also what to avoid. From a lack of career progression to it simply not being the right fit, here’s what to look out for: 

  • High staff turnover rates 
  • High intern turnover rates i.e. no evidence of previous interns moving up 
  • A toxic work culture 
  • An industry you realise just isn’t for you – and that’s ok! 

Find out what you should be looking for an in internship here or see the internships you can apply for now.   


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