Three ways to handle coffee-fetching internships
So there you are, interning at a company in your desired field, and all they've assigned to you so far are monotonous tasks like fetching coffee or sorting papers. Probably not what you were expecting. Many of us have been there, and there are a variety of ways of going about handling it, some undoubtedly better than others.
Here are three ways to handle an internship where you're not doing relevant work or learning relevant lessons.
1. Find a way to brag about it on your resume
There are ways to word something on a resume to make it look good without lying.
In an internship where you do non-relevant tasks like answer phones or run errands for the boss, you can still use it on your resume by applying it toward a specific position you apply for in the future. Brigham Young University (BYU) gives an example of this on its website, by showing how someone could make a teaching assistant position on their resume look compelling for a sales position. In this scenario, BYU suggested putting the following on a resume: "Tailored information and resources to the needs of 15 independent students." Tailoring information is what sales people do, so it works while being accurate.
Fetching coffee may be difficult to brag about, but it does show your willingness to do any task your boss asks of you. Sorting papers shows your organizational skills. Answering the phone displays your interpersonal skills. There are ways to market this to your advantage, without exaggerating or lying.
Finding a way to demonstrate your skills with menial tasks could still enable the internship to be useful for you.
2. Ask for more responsibilities
It may sound nerve-wracking, but asking for more relevant responsibilities may work. It may also blow up in your face, if the boss thinks you're undermining his or her authority. So be sure that when you go about this you do so as respectfully as possible, reiterating how much you appreciate the company's work and your opportunity to intern there.
If this is an unpaid internship, then legally the company can't merely have you fetching coffee. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, there are six criteria that must be met that determine a legal unpaid internship, summarized below:
- The internship should be similar to the kind of training found in an educational environment.
- The internship is for the benefit of the intern.
- The internship doesn't replace employees, but works under their supervision.
- The employer "derives no immediate advantages from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded."
- The intern's not necessarily guaranteed a job after the internship ends.
- Both you and your employer understand the internship's not paid.
If the company where you're interning at for free doesn't meet those criteria, then not taking on more responsibilities keeps you in illegal status. At this point, it seems you have a legal obligation to ask for more responsibilities. Of course, this only applies to for-profit companies and unpaid internships. If you're paid or interning at a non-profit organization, you can't take the legal approach with your boss when asking for more relevant work tasks.
3. Do your best and then find another internship
If things aren't panning out with your internship as you hoped, should you quit it and try to find another? Unless you're being harassed or mistreated in some way, you should finish up any internship you've already started, whether it's paid, unpaid, relevant or irrelevant. And finish it up well. But after the internship spent fetching coffee is over with, find another internship.
Lauren Berger, founder of Intern Queen, completed 15 internships during college. Most college students won't get near this number, so don't allow your only college internship be one where you don't gain anything -- money or valuable work experience. Internships are an excellent way to gain relevant experience, learn about career fields you're interested in, and network with current professionals. Don't let one bad internship solidify your experience with internships. Land at least one more, if not a few more, during college, but only after giving your current internship your best shot.
U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division, Internship Programs Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, http://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/whdfs71.pdf
"How to land your dream summer internship," schools.com, Feb. 2, 2012, Jon Fortenbury, http://www.schools.com/articles/how-to-land-your-dream-summer-internship.html
BYU Career Services, Writing a Resume, https://ucs.byu.edu/students/resumes