Internship Sites: Setting Boundaries and Expectations

Boundaries are the rules and limits we set for ourselves based on our values and what is most important to us.

Setting and knowing your own boundaries beforehand will make you feel more confident and less likely to do something you aren’t comfortable with.

At a new job or internship, it is normal to want to make a good first impression and new hires are usually eager to please.

It is great to be open and willing to accept new projects or tasks but do not feel obligated to always say “yes”.

It is ok to say “no” if you’re feeling unsure, overwhelmed or someone who you don’t report to is asking.

When saying “no” it is important to use confidence, speak at a steady tone, make eye contact and make it clear.

Avoid yelling, be aware of your tone of voice and remain respectful.

Appropriate ways to say “no”:

  • “Sorry my priority right now is…”
  • “Thank you for thinking of me but I can’t take anymore on at the moment…”
  • “This sounds great but maybe it would be better suited if/for…”
  • “Given my current workload I am unable to give this the attention it would need”
  • “Unfortunately, I have to pass at this time”
  • “Unfortunately, I cannot do that at this time”
  • “I am really buckling down on my priorities right now and I just can’t take one more thing”
  • “I’m feeling a little overwhelmed at the moment, can we schedule something down the road?”
  • “I’m sorry but I can’t”

Many folks have a mix of boundary types based on their professional and personal boundaries.

Examples of different boundary types include:

Healthy

  • Values own opinions
  • Does not compromise values for others
  • Shares personal information in an appropriate way (does not over/under share)
  • Knows wants/needs and can communicate them
  • Accepts when others say “no”

Porous

  • Overshares information
  • Difficulty saying “no”
  • Overinvolved with other’s issues
  • Dependent on opinion of others
  • Accepts disrespect
  • Fears rejection

Rigid

  • Avoids close relationships
  • Unlikely to ask for help
  • Has few close relationships
  • Protective of personal info
  • Seems detached even from people close to them
  • Keeps others at a distance to avoid rejection

What gives you excitement/passion in this internship?

What do you think might drain you/cause burnout?

What are some of your strengths?

What are some of your weaknesses?

What are some things you are not willing to do?

What type of work environment are you successful in?

What do you expect from a supervisor?

What are some things you may need help with?

What do you want to accomplish in your internship?

What do you want experience with during your internship?

What are some things you can do to lower your stress and improve your mental health?

SAMPLE 1: You are not doing much or you are bored.

Solution: If you want to learn more about a certain area offer to collaborate with another department or come up with a project, ask for new projects and show initiative as well as help with small tasks that contribute to the larger picture. You’ll stand out and normally it helps someone save a lot of time while you gain more experience.

Example: Your supervisor has mentioned that he never has time to read industry journals. Offer to read them and write up brief summaries. Or maybe there are many old and outdated resources at your company so you figure out a system to streamline and update them in an easy way.

SAMPLE 2: You are feeling overwhelmed or confused.

Solution: There are no wrong questions, if you are unsure of something ask! This is a learning experience and you are not expected to know everything or to be a pro yet. Do not wait until its too late to ask. Feel free to clarify with others who may have been in the same email or meeting and don’t be afraid to directly ask your supervisor for clarification. Everyone will feel a lot better knowing you are all on the same page. Take initiative to set up a weekly meeting if you’d like and check in just to stay on the same page.

Example: First prioritize what you can, use a planner, to do lists, a calendar, alarms – whatever might help to keep you feeling organized. Then if you are still feeling like there is too much on your plate talk to your supervisor regarding hours, remote vs. in person work and projects in general. Typically, employers understand you are a full-time student first and will likely be flexible.

SAMPLE 3: You are unsure if you’re doing your intern role well.

Solution: Ask for feedback! Usually at the beginning of an internship you’ll set some goals or expectations and at the end you usually meet to discuss what was accomplished, what wasn’t, how to improve or continue being successful. Take initiative to set up a weekly meeting not only to check in but to get any feedback on current projects.

Example: Ask “What are some things I can work on?” and be prepared for constructive feedback. A good leader will be honest and if you can handle their feedback professionally it will make you a better worker in the long term.

SAMPLE 4: You realize you don’t want to be in this industry or have this job in the future.

Solution: Sometimes the best thing to learn is that you do not like something, this is helping you narrow down your career path believe it or not! It has been valuable if it is helped you decide to pursue or not to pursue this line of work. Now see if you can get another internship experience in another topic of interest or chat with your Career Advisor to figure out where to go from here.

Example: Maybe you realize you hate working in a law office, consider other departments or types of work that you do not like in your current role and read some descriptions of internships to see if there are any you might like.