Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Vent-a-thon 2010!

Finally, I want to address Anonymous' fourth comment, from a previous post:

Fourth comment. Lulu, please help other interns not to experience what I experienced. Are there ways to detect a short-sighted firm in the interview process? What questions should us interns ask the company at the interview regarding their attitude towards the IDP process? I hope none of the interns that follow your advice and ask the company for experience in additional IDP training areas get the answer 'NO' yelled back at them like I did. I even volunteered my time to get the experience. The answer was still 'NO'

I recommend that interns get help from a mentor outside of their firm for completing the difficult IDP requiremnts. Thats what I do now. I won't even mention IDP at another firm that I work at. I will complete the IDP silently.

Some firms don't want you to become more marketable by completing the IDP, it seems like.

Not every firm is intern friendly like yours, Lulu. I just had to vent.

And vent you should, Anon! You've been dealt a horrible hand in your internship, and it's not right. But I should mention that even in the firm at which I work, not every manager is so intern-friendly. Some refuse to work with interns with less than three years' experience. Some view interns as drafting machines with a pulse. And some view interns as solid, capable human beings with a lot to contribute. In these cases, it's all about staffing; when figuring out who will work with/for whom, those in charge of staffing have to figure out who is the best for for what projects and which people. People are not interchangeable parts in an engine--we all all unique, and some work better with others.

It's Anon's fourth comment here that strikes at the heart of why I started this blog in the first place. I hoped that by sharing my experience and observations, perhaps I could help some interns out there with a little direction or a second or third opinion on some job- or career-related matter, or at the very least just spare you some of the pain that I and my colleagues have suffered. Though I have been at the same firm for ten years, it hasn't all been beer and Skittles. I worked for a manager at one point who would throw tantrums and code books when he was angry, and he once threatened to hit me if I didn't fax something to a contractor (like why wouldn't I fax it to the contractor? it was part of my job!). I worked for another manager who seemed to be obsessed with looking at the front of my shirt when he wasn't looking down it. I worked with a colleague who attempted to stalk me via cell phone and email. And I've worked for a manager who was such a micromanager that night after night I would go home and weep into my sofa, wondering if I was cut out for this job and this profession in the first place...and those crying fits were happening after I'd been licensed for three years and had started this blog, mind you.

If I come across as Pollyanna-ish on Intern 101, it's because I've been through some pretty heavy crap and have come out the other side. As the Zen saying goes, this too shall pass. And, seeing as nearly all of those horrible managers and colleagues have been let go from my firm, I think of a saying from Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.: the arc of justice is long, but it's wide.

One of the best ways to learn is from each other. Some of you out there have to have been in horrible situations with bad bosses and wretched firms at one point or another. Looking back on those times, what were the red flags that you missed at the time? What was the signal that told you that it wasn't you, it was them? How did you get out of it? Try to keep it as clean and as civil as you can, but tell me about it! You can email it to me in the sidebar or describe it in the comments below. I'll also poll some of my colleagues and share their experiences here in the coming days.

Remember, this site works best when you contribute and share questions and ideas. I'd like to give a special thanks to Anonymous, for providing the original comments that have spurred the last few posts--good food for thought, indeed!


  1. I'll borrow a couple of quotes from Anon as they go hand in hand...

    1. Are there ways to detect a short-sighted firm in the interview process? What questions should us interns ask the company at the interview regarding their attitude towards the IDP process?

    2. This large firm did not support my goals of completing the IDP requirements at all.

    First off, to Anon, you may have done this, so I'm not questioning you, but I'm pulling form your comments because this is often overlooked by others...

    To answer 1 and knowing 2 is your goal, I would say be clear about your goal in the interview and see what the reaction is. They may not be as blatant in the interview as at your performance review or stomp around throwing code books, but you can usually get some idea. Yellow/Red flag or probe further answers might be..."We don't really have an intern development program mapped out"; "We just expect people to get their work done and the project out the door", "You'll eventually get your experience by being here"; "It's up to each intern to pursue their hours"; "You'll have to work this out with our HR director"; "We're so busy, there will be plenty of hours to go around"; "Our CAD director isn't licensed but you'll be working with him"; "This is a specific project, we can't guarantee you a broad experience at this time"... Now, almost all of these could go either way depending on the firm, work load, who your ACTUAL manager ends up being, etc. but if you don't ask at least something about what your internship experience will be like, then you have to put some of it on yourself if it ends up being a disaster. Sometimes, we ignore these questions or overlook them because the projects are cool, it will look good on the resume, you have friends there, hey-it's a job etc. BTW, I've done this as well, so this is hindsight!

    Obviously, in this economy, employers are in control of the market right now. As a result, you have to be more careful about appearing more concerned "getting your hours" than getting the work done in an interview. I wouldn't say being totally under the radar is good either. It's a tough time right now that creates a lot of "Should haves", "What if", Why?" "ARRRGGGHHH!!!" When it changes? Who knows, but consider it a learning exercise like no other.

  2. JD: Good point. While getting your IDP hours is every intern's responsibility, the firm at which you work should meet you halfway whenever possible. Knowing whether a firm is going to do this is part of an interview process, and believe me--we've ALL made the mistake of accepting a job of some sort and later realize that it's a case of "item not as described." Asking what they have in place to help interns get their hours is a great start, and thanks for sharing the yellow/red flag responses that you've heard. While an intern may get less-than-acceptable responses to those question but still have to take a job just to get the bills paid, at least he or she knows what the score is when they begin.

    The crappy economy makes asking these questions even harder, as you comment, but they're still worth asking. Good discussion for a follow-up post.