What are Important Things You Wish You Knew Before Interning?

What are important things that you wish you’d known, or you think I should know, when I’m looking and applying for internships?

I made a list in my head back in 2016, while commuting to school on the off chance I’d have to fast talk answer this. You’d be amazed how many people ambushed me for ~life advice~ even back then, when the blog was really tiny.

The following is what originally comprised this answer. This 2018 though, I’ve expanded it with the insights I’ve gained along the way.

Here’s my Top 13 Things I Want You To Know Before You Start Interning list:

1. It’s in your best interest to show up every day, on time or earlier, and willing plus ready to work until it’s time to head home. 

An internship only runs a set number of weeks. Even if you already hate your internship starting 1st week. Especially if you hate it starting on the 1st day.

I wish I kept that firmly in mind throughout my first few internships, because as much as I loved them in the end, I got drained and demotivated in the middle of them a little too often for my liking. I’m sure my bosses also felt that negativity emanating off of me during my down weeks.

Never give your bosses any excuse to question your work ethic. Especially if you’re asking for a recommendation letter after.

2. If they’re not paying you, they don’t own your time. 

They cannot ask you to do 8 hours of work everyday, because that would make you legally liable for compensation. You need to voluntarily work 8 hours unpaid.

Don’t be guilt-tripped into prioritizing them over your school work or other commitments. Your time is the most valuable resource you have, so treat it as such. Taking on multiple projects that will benefit their revenue, and where you only gain ‘experience’ from this work is something you need to decide that you can live with. Feeling burnt out, overstretched, or even like you’re going to throw up when you look at your to-do list is no way to live life, much less how an unpaid internship should make you feel.

On the other hand, if you’re being paid a fair wage, then feeling stressed out is a given and you should totally ignore this advice. Payment for time equals owning your time.

3. If you’re doing graphic design, even if you’re not that good, then you better be getting paid.

Free graphic design work hurts everyone, but most especially you and future you.

4. If you’re doing intensive, time-consuming graphic design, or it directly affects their business’ revenues, then you better be getting paid A LOT.

Law of proportion, people can ask for high salaries because they’ll be giving the company astronomical returns. If you’re the primary revenue generator, then you can afford to be paid at least a tenth of what you’re making back.

Related: Why Intern Now?

5. If you didn’t sign a contract, you’re not obligated to do anything you’re not comfortable with.

Stand by your gut feeling. That’s your line in the sand.The best advice I ever got from a lawyer uncle is to never cross your own line. It’s easier to argue why you didn’t do something, rather than why you did and how everyone’s going to solve the negative consequences involved.

And if you did sign a contract, but you still feel uncomfortable with what you’re doing, reach out to your peers, your HR, your boss’ boss, and your boss’ peers for help. Provide context as to why and what specifically makes you feel uncomfortable. Then ask them for help to quell the terrible feelings in your gut.

At the end of the day, you’re the kid.

Don’t feel like you have to be the mature one always. When problems arise, you should always call for help and not try to deal with it alone. (I still have problems calling for help, so don’t worry if it feels like a cop out. No one’s expecting you to have it all handled perfectly.)

6. If you’re taking a common course, that’s not part of an in-demand field, start working early towards your dream industry. 

I’m a SOM student (John Gokongwei School of Management aka business students for those not from ADMU) from a regular, nothing special course. I greatly enjoyed it, but in senior year, my blockmates started asking me to look at their resumes.

7. When in doubt, ask. 

(Even to this day at my job, I have difficulty with this so don’t worry if this isn’t second nature to you yet. I wish I built up the habit before as an intern, but I’m hard-headed and I believe I can figure anything out given enough time. And this stubbornness has really come back to bite me hard.)There will be times when the instructions are malabo, or a new scenario crops up that they didn’t cover, so I’d just wing it and hope that what I was doing is what they wanted.

Most times it does not work out well.

There’s nothing more frustrating than putting your entire week into an output that your boss doesn’t want. Or worse, into something urgently needed that you’ve unintentionally set back because of your stubbornness.

So guys, never hesitate to ask!! It’s better to look stupid right now when there’s no deadlines yet, than to look stupid after working 48 hours nonstop on something useless.

Related: What Do We Need to Know About Internships?

9. It’s okay to ask for a flexible schedule.

Take this as permission to ask for that flexible sched. Especially if you’re commuting or interning during the school year.I can’t stress enough how important it is to throw the question out there, so that you’ve at least tried every option. It’s 2018 when I write this, and I’ve been using the MRT day in day out for all my Makati based internships aka 6 months between 2015-2016. And for my BGC based work, which has been 4 months so far.

I figured out early on that I needed to leave at 4:30pm instead of 6pm to beat the evening MRT rush. But I didn’t ask my bosses if I could have this more flexible schedule, until I was exhausted from getting home at 9pm everyday 2 weeks in.

Story Time: When I finally did ask, 1 boss countered with “What about the time you aren’t in the office? We won’t pay you for that. I’ll have it deducted from your pay.” which I rebutted with “I’m in the office starting 6:30am, and I start working then. Technically I’ve fulfilled the 8 hour quota.”

I wouldn’t have had the nerve to reply if I wasn’t so fed up with the MRT by then, but thankfully they didn’t hold my rebuttal against me. My logic was sound. I got my flexible sched.

Nowadays, I’m a lot more vocal with my schedule. If I leave the office past 7pm and I know I’ll get home past 9, I ask that the next day I get to come in later. If I leave early, I make sure that the moment I get home, I send a few emails to show them I’m still in work mode.

Know what you need, especially to deliver great work, and don’t be afraid to ask for it. Commuting in Manila is terrible. I used to avoid asking for this because I didn’t want to come off as entitled. But with traffic this horrible, there isn’t much choice.

I can’t do quality work if I’m too burnt out from the logistics of getting to work. I assume the same goes for you guys too.

The secret to bargaining for a more flexible schedule, without the mind-numbing embarrassment, is to either ask for it before you agree to anything or to bring it up 2 weeks into your internship. I’ll detail this more as a bonus in the end.

10. Don’t feel like you’ve got to sacrifice everything to get their approval.

You can be the chill intern who gets work done when they’re not looking. You can also be the frantic one for 3 hours, who gets it all done during the headless panic. Don’t feel the need to keep up pretenses. Be yourself, while getting work done.

You’re not staying there forever. There is an actual expiry date to your stay there so you don’t have to give 600%. 80% or less is OK. People pass tests with 80%.The Pareto Principle states that 20% effort brings 80% results. Take what you will from that.

Related: How to Find an Internship that Fits Your Academic Schedule

11. If you can finish your work before 5pm, do it.

Rush hour traffic is hell starting at 5:05 pm. Same goes for the MRT and FX lines. The next time it’s OK is 11:31 pm.

2018 update because I’m a working girl now: If I leave work at 4pm, I’ll be home by 4:30. If I leave at 4:30, I’ll be home by 5:15. If I leave by 5, I’ll be home by 7.

Whatever it takes to leave early, be it working from home or coming in earlier, I’m willing to do it to save my time and sanity. Do the same for yourself. Manila traffic is terrible, and it’s not going to get better any time soon.

12. Meetings should be first thing in the day to get it over with.

It seems cool today as a newbie to have 7 meetings in your calendar. But when you have a billion things to get done, meetings are a pain. They slice your day into unusable segments, and leave you feeling exhausted but unproductive. Also, when in meetings, bring a notepad and pen to look like you’re paying attention. It’s plus points for personal PR in the office.

Unfortunately, they might rely on you to actually make notes without telling you, so I suggest you do write stuff down. (I’ve made that mistake twice. Never have I worked my background memory as hard as I did to fill in the gaps of a 3-hour meeting I wasn’t listening to.)

If you did take notes, and you want brownie points, end every meeting with a recap and ask if they need you to circulate a copy of the minutes. This way everyone knows your name and starts trusting you faster.

13. If they don’t like the way you’re solving the problem, talk it out with them to get the “why”. 

If their answer is “because we always used to do it the other way”, tell them in as gentle a way as possible that times are changing. I cannot advise on how to tell them this because I am not a gentle breaker of news.But it has to be gentle because you’re the expendable character in this scenario. Also, they’re probably older than you by a lot and won’t take kindly to being told off by a youngster like you. Tread carefully, but stick to your guns.

The reason you’re there is to make the processes simpler, more efficient, and in tune with the 21st century tech. Figure out how to remind them of that.

If the old(er) adults make jokes about you, remember it’s because they’re old and maybe they’re a little jealous that they didn’t have the same opportunities as you do now.

And because according to the power dynamics of Philippine society, they’re allowed to make fun of younger people and we, the younger people, are required to laugh along with them. Sooo.

Let it go. Fight another day. Be the bigger person.

And when we become the generation that bosses around the younger ones, let’s remember that as progressive as our predecessors were, the generation that came before us is still a little racist, sexist, ageist, and misogynistic (even though the Philippines is the 5th best place in the entire world to be a woman). And the younger ones will think the same of us. It’s a cycle we’ll never break, only improve marginally.

It sucks, but we can’t do anything about it as the lowest rung on the ladder today. We can change it on an institutional level when the oldies start retiring or dying out. But as of today, we can only make little bits of progress. Always listen to the younger ones though.

Related: 9 Apps To Tweak Your Productivity When You’re Always On The Go


How to Ask for a More Flexible Schedule

Bringing up your concern during the interview

Back up your ask with 3 valid reasons as to why you should have a flexible schedule. Saying you’re tired isn’t enough. Saying you’re tired, and it’s affecting your output is.

Then give them 2 options for your sched, so they feel like they still have final say.

If your reasons and options are excellent, then they’ve got no reason to say no.

If they still insist on having an intern full-time and you feel like you can’t realistically manage the schedule, then don’t take the internship. Trust me, it will only cause you frustration and headaches if you take on a schedule you can’t handle.

Bringing up your concern 2 weeks in

By end of week 1, you need to decide if you’re going to ask for a flexible sched 2 weeks from now” or not. After you’ve decided, now time to prep your game plan.

Week 2

First, you need to take stock of the situation. Does your boss see the struggle? Have they ever expressed sympathy about your situation? Yes, you get to work on time but at what cost? Do you have to start commuting at 4am? Do you have to stand in line for 3 hours everyday?

Casually drop those facts in everyday conversation with lines expressing your daily struggle like “What time did you get home, blah? I got home late, at 9pm because the MRT lines are getting longer.”

It’s priming their minds to realize how difficult it is for you to get to work.

While doing that, also stress that you really like your job and that you enjoy the work. This internship is a highlight of your week. You’re enjoying the work, and the boss. You’re double priming this week, making sure they know you’re having a difficult time to get to a job you like.

Now it’s time for the ask.

Week 3

Set time with your boss early in the day. And I mean first thing in the morning. That way they know what time you come into the office and how alert you are while they’re still sleepy.

When you guys sit down, talk about something specific you like doing in your internship, but you’ve realized that the past week your performance at it has been slipping.

You thought long and hard about it, and the reason why is because of the commute. You’re performing subpar because you’re exhausted.

Insert here the process for bringing up the concern during the interview.

Bring up reasons as to why you need a flexible sched, and 2 options for your new sched. But also, prepare to bring out the “I’ll have to cut my time here short” card in case they don’t want to budge. Only bring it out though, if you’re actually willing to push through with that promise.

Personally, I’m a firm believer that no internship is worth degrading your health. But you might not believe the same, and that’s ok. To each their own. Just make sure that whatever you decide to do doesn’t put you in permanent danger, like health conditions you can’t recover from.

Whatever happens next, I hope you prioritize your health above all else!! Interning a lot taught me that there’ll always be new opportunities, but there’ll never be a new you. Just a repaired, updated, patched up, and maybe if we’re lucky rebooted version of you.

So please don’t waste your health!! I’ve wasted too much of me already on things that didn’t matter, and I’d hate to see you all make the same mistakes. (Which is partly why the blog’s here. To chronicle my mistakes for you all to not follow. So please, learn from my mistakes.)


In case you have no idea where you are, welcome to The Border Collective, where any question you’ve got on internships, resumes, or careers in the PH can and will be answered. I’m Justine, founder and writer of all things here.

Internship FAQ is a slot for me to share things I’ve learned over the course of my internships (and probably early work years), so that you guys don’t have to trial and error this stuff like I did.

It’s my way of giving back because I wish that when I was a freshman, a resource like TBC existed to help guide not to waste my time on things that don’t work here in the Philippines. I sincerely hope that what I write helps you reach your dreams a little faster.

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About Justine

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Hope you read something useful, til the next time I write something, bye~


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