Magazine
Sep 7, 2019

A Summer Internship Crushed My Dreams and Annihilated my Ambition

Aisling Marren describes a corporate internship at a Big Four firm that failed to live up to expectations.

Aisling MarrenAssistant Editor

The summer of 2019 crushed my dreams and annihilated my ambition.

It didn’t have to be this way. Post-exams, I was happy, content – even looking forward to the summer months. I had secured an internship in a Big Four firm – a massive step up from my previous summer jobs in supermarkets, bars and tourist hangouts.

The company I interned at will remain nameless, but I assure you: I was well within my rights to look smug whenever I told anyone how I was spending my summer.

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Finally, I had a job I could gain actual relevant experience from. I’d be able to rub shoulders with high-powered professionals and network with other talented young bright sparks at our weekly trips to Dicey’s. Think of the potential for my LinkedIn connections!

When I arrived for my first day, dressed in H&M’s finest (cheapest) workwear, my spirits were high. I listened to big shot after big shot tell me how thousands had applied for my internship, and that I was one of the lucky few who had made it. By the time I was handed my free drink tokens at the end of the day, I was glowing.

This wasn’t like Lauren and Whitney’s experience in Teen Vogue – it was better. I wouldn’t be doing menial scanning and sorting – I’d be making meaningful contributions to important work. I couldn’t wait to get started!

So imagine my surprise when the first week came and went, and I wasn’t given a scrap of work to do. I told myself that I was being eased into the new role – that my seniors didn’t want to overburden me so early on. Then the second week rolled around, and still they gave me no work. I felt awkward asking people around the office several times a day if there was “‘anything, please‘, that I could do?”. Alas, no-one wanted to make use of my skill set.

By week four I had settled into a comfortable routine: taking full advantage of the free office breakfast, reading all the newsletters I had subscribed to out of boredom and checking my emails until lunch. I would then take an unhurried, long lunch and repeat my morning routine until 5pm, when – freed from my shackles – I could head home. My internship was 12 weeks long, by the way.

This wasn’t like Lauren and Whitney’s experience in Teen Vogue – it was better

What bothered me most was the misinformation – the false promise. Why are internships lauded as fantastic and career-propelling? The majority of people I encountered with comparable summer internships had a nearly identical experience to me. We were ceremoniously brought into the office and given our work laptops, and then unceremoniously left to scroll through social media on them for hours everyday.

I began to ask myself, in both a practical and existential sense, why I was here at all. The answer to the former was, I decided, publicity. Cameras followed us around our induction day, and we were pestered to tag our workplace in our Instagram posts and to contribute blog posts for next year’s promotional material. I actually participated in this mind-numbingly boring exercise, to kill half an hour.

The most egregious example of this PR strategy – what I refer to as the lowlight of my internship – was the Corporate Social Responsibility Day. We were bussed out to Bull Island, camera crew in tow, to pick up rubbish. On a normal day this would have been pretty dull, but this was not a normal day: there was a yellow weather warning.

So I wandered down the beach with a picker, sporadically getting blasted by bursts of torrential rain. There wasn’t even any rubbish to pick up because, naturally, every other intern in Dublin had been to Bull Island for the same reason earlier in the summer and had left the island spotless. I spent the day fantasising about my escape, but Bull Island is infuriatingly remote. A taxi would have cost more than my paltry intern salary could justify.

Speaking of social excursions, a close runner-up for the lowlight of my internship was my one and only venture to Dicey’s. I have frequented Dicey’s before so my expectations were tempered accordingly. Nevertheless, this particular visit was shockingly bad. A herd of Dublin’s interns stampeded onto Harcourt St for the €2 pints, so Dicey’s was completely wedged. I could definitely have endured that, if not for the hefty dose of pretension that accompanied the whole event.

There we were in our workwear – laptop bag in one hand, cheap beverage in the other – pretending to be the young professionals most of us plainly were not. We compared tales about what company and department we were in. We didn’t really know each other that well, and we had little in common apart from our shared boredom. No one seemed to want to broadcast this boredom though, for fear of being looked upon as a lazy intern, so we couldn’t even commiserate over that. The cheap alcohol wasn’t worth it, and I was paranoid about losing my laptop, despite the fact that I hadn’t been using it for any actual work. I left and made it home in time for Love Island.

There wasn’t even any rubbish to pick up because every other intern in Dublin had been to Bull Island for the same reason earlier in the summer

Meanwhile, back at the office, I was still being promised that work would soon pick up and I’d be given something to do. I grew accustomed to my cushy routine of reading and eating. And then something strange happened. Just over halfway through my internship, I began to dread actually being given a task.

Gone were the days of seeking out projects. My spirit had been crushed by the constant rejection, and I had internalised the message that had, thus far, defined my time there: I couldn’t really help out, because I didn’t know how to. Anyway, doing actual work wasn’t really my job.

I wanted to like my internship, really I did, and certain elements of it definitely grew on me. I will struggle to return to part-time weekend work this semester, having learned for the first time since secondary school what it’s like to have the same two consecutive days off every week. And my God, I miss those free breakfasts and lunches and endless snacks dearly.

But when I think about what I actually gained from my internship, only one word springs to mind: weight. I guess I can also rule out ever working for one of the Big Four, so that’s something. And I now know that the next person I hear harping on about how fantastic and crucial internships are for your personal development and career prospects is probably an idiot. I fell for that spiel once and lived to regret it.

Oh, and as The Hills: New Beginnings makes a return to our screens, I won’t be tuning in – that reality television show is about as real as unicorns. I can definitively confirm, having done an internship, that it wasn’t nearly as fun as Lauren and Whitney made it out to be.

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