Incompetence, inadequacy and inexperience - me, myself and these 3 I’s are like school friends who meet regularly over a summer break.
This is the time of the year when I’m reunited with my fourth I - internship.
Doing grunt work at public policy centres, shredding papers for two hours at publication houses, or doing a week’s worth of research for two sentences on social media campaigns is not what I give up my holidays for.
And still, I do it, taking on a very specific psychosis of the young college professional: internship syndrome.
It’s pretty much like imposter syndrome, where you always feel like you don’t deserve to be there, except, you’ve got evenlessqualification to think that you’re making it all up in your head.
Unfortunately, every aspect of the internship venue tends to make you feel like youdefinitelydon’t belong, and you spend all your time scrambling to prove that you do.
I guess that’s the job, though, right?
Let me put it this way: How do you know you’re suffering from internship syndrome?
One - you’re not given the work you really thought you would be doing.
“Yes, I know you joined us to get a feel for legal work, but it is crucial that you go buy snacks for the tea-time debrief right now.”
Two - you’re barely given the work that someone else has not already passed down to your lowly intern self.
“I’m not in the mood to write a 2000 word report by 5pm - get Nameless Nobody #3 to do it, she’s probably slacking off anyway.”
Three - You are paid pennies, if at all.
“But this is all the money we have for our interns working 50-hour weeks - aren’t you here for the experience anyway?”
Finally, four - at the end of those two or three months, you feel like no real experience has been reaped from your fetching of coffees, your menial conversion of Excel tables, or your ghostwriting for people who would rather die than give you credit for it.
Instead, what you have is a slavish commitment that hits the trifecta of being treated like you’re incompetent, being reminded that you’re inadequately-skilled, and being forced to exit with the same level of inexperience you entered with.
So...why the hell do offices drive their interns into a crushing self-doubt? What’s up with making you do double the work and receive no kudos?
The way I see it, Internship Syndrome is less about the intern, and more a disease of the company that hires you. Because what’s not sick about having someone to make run around and someone to pawn off the boring stuff to?
Crucially, it is the creation of a Somebody Without a Totally Clear Job Description who just cannot say no to your whims, one because they don’t know if they shouldn’t be doing the work anyway, and two because as interns, you always feel like you’re on thin ice.
And look, being an intern is not always a horror story. But it is like playing a game on hard mode, without any instructions on how to use the buttons. You continuously feel exploited and you’re never really reassured about whatever you do think you did right.
So if you’re relating so far into this article, and if I were you, I’d embrace the feeling of incompetence. Embrace the feeling of inadequacy. Embrace the feeling of inexperience. Because being an intern can help you learn what you don’t like about work culture, more than it can teach you what you do like. The fact is that with each project or internship I move on to when we’re finally entering the workforce, what’ll help us survive is being a battering ram every summer. I’d much rather know exactly what I don’t want from my place of work, rather than have some surety that I like my line of work.