Tacky uniforms, awful bosses, icing explosions—any of these things can take the cake for being the worst part of a pastry chef internship. Unfortunately for many, internships might not all be as sweet as the ones offered at Georgetown Cupcakes. Regardless of your situation, your job title and description is not as important as what you learn—the knowledge and skills that you learn for your next opportunity is what becomes the key ingredient for future success.
Patty Vitale, Chief of Staff to Councilmember Leventhal of the Montgomery County Council in Maryland, explains that their team hired an intern a few years ago to do some work around the office as a favor. She clearly did not appreciate this favor because, “After the summer ended and she went back to school, we came across a blog post she wrote that said she had a really lame job… where she spent most of her day surfing the Internet but got paid $20 an hour,” says Vitale. The office did hang onto this post in the event that the intern ever needed a reference.
Suffice to say, this intern did not take away anything constructive from her position, but she definitely taught the office a lesson to be more careful about who they hire. If you’re stuck in a position of filing papers and other tedious tasks and you knew that this was part of your job description, put a smile on your face and try to make the most of the opportunity.
Lindsay Garten, junior at Barnard College, was stuck in a boring job. To top it off, she also had to commute to Philadelphia from Baltimore once a week, and she did not get along with her boss. “I felt like oftentimes I was there only to do busy work or to sit around all day and hardly get anything done,” she says. The major bummer of her position though: it was an unpaid internship. “So I was paying to drive up to Philadelphia, which involved both gas money and money for tolls to do busy work,” says Garten.
If she could do it all over again, she says, “I definitely wouldn’t have taken an internship that was so far away, or I would’ve made sure they would at least reimburse me for my travel expenses.” Lesson learned: consider the commute, the tasks and your future ‘work family’ before signing a contract.
Heather McDowell, who works at on the regulatory counsel of the Office of Counterterrorism & Emerging Threats at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, spent four summers working for a manufacturing company. While there, she spent weeks in their “supply room… microfilming company records to archive them. For hour after hour,” she says, “I sat on a knee-high stool in a windowless closet, surrounded by notepads and pens and paperclips, and bathed in that blue-ish fluorescent light, feeding reams of paper into a machine. The only break in routine was when the machine jammed, crunching up the records I was supposed to be preserving.”
After her four experiences with the company, she was “able to overhear the sales calls taking place and got a sense of different styles and approaches” from within her little closet, got to actually make “the flavor and fragrance products the company manufactured,” learned how to drive a fork lift, worked in accounting, and developed “quality control labs.” In the end, McDowell made the most of her experience and surprised herself by taking a lot away from it.
Although not everyone will be able to take away fork-lift-driving skills from their internship, it is definitely worth finding the sweet parts of your internship before just assuming that icing exploding in your face is a bad thing. But, if at all possible, make sure to start the internship-seeking process as early as possible, so that you can avoid these internship disasters.