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I was an intern for a large software company last year and was asked to return this summer for a second internship, which I accepted.

This company is divided into sections which are then divided into groups of about a dozen people. Interns are allowed to specify a preference for a section but not for a group within that section.

Last year, however, when I was on my way out I was encouraged by several people to "shop around" and see what the different groups in the section were up to and what projects they had to offer, and to indicate some preferences for groups, which I did (I can't remember whether this indication was a formal in-writing thing on my exit form or an informal "I'd like to be in your group next year" thing). This was actually something I thought a lot about when I was there because I anticipated coming back as full-time after my internship and wanted to spend the second internship really diving into my selected future group's culture and goals.

Recently I received an e-mail stating which group I would be in. While in the same section, it is not the group I had hoped to be in, and is in fact very distant in purpose within the fairly large section -- I believe it's in a different building, and I had never worked with or even met anyone from this group. Where many of the groups I had been interested in working on have missions that crossover substantially with my academic interests and graduate research, I do not anticipate this being the case for the group I have been put in.

I am worried that my skillset and interests will not be a good fit with the group and that I will have a disappointing internship; given that this is my second internship with this company, this would be a particularly painful blow since I had invested a lot in a future with this company after graduation.

A couple reasons this could be:

  • The group I wanted was too full, and I got tossed back to HR which put me on a random group in my preferred section. The thing here is that groups get to pick interns to be in them, and there were many people in the groups I would have liked to be in that knew who I was; it's unlikely that they were all too full.

  • This group really wanted me, or a lot of people really wanted me to be in this group for some reason, which would be strange since it's so distant.

  • Some other on-the-ground reason I don't understand (i.e. reshuffling or logistics problems)

Obviously I would like to be on the group I selected, one of the groups I was interested in, or at least something more relevant to what I'm interested in. But I don't want to create a negative relationship with my manager if I do end up in the group I didn't want to be in (I don't want to be "the guy who doesn't want to be here and tried to get away" all summer). I also don't want to sound entitled just because I worked there last year, like I should get to demand a group to be in unlike other interns -- some people may not know that I was encouraged to think about my future career on that level.

Some options:

  • Contact HR, explain the situation and ask what information they can give me or how they can help me.

  • Contact my manager from last year, who is directly connected to the group/areas I wanted to work on and can give me a more on-the-ground perspective.

  • Other? Contacting my current manager seems like a really bad idea. Doing nothing is a really bad idea as well.

  • You should have followed up this year with the group or groups that you wanted to join. The members are not going to remember that you're interested without a reminder, almost a year later. – mkennedy May 1 '14 at 20:36
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Internships are a two-way street. The employer gets some (hopefully useful) work out of you at a lower cost and with less risk than hiring a permanent, full-time employee, and can use it as a sort of extended interview/audition if they have interest in hiring you aftewards. You get to build up work history, improve your skills, learn new things, and develop a professional network.

Whoever was responsible for placing you with this group probably expects that you can contribute productively and will be able to broaden your skillset. If you are concerned that this is not the case, you can voice that to the person responsible for the placement (sounds like HR?).

Don't bring this up as an "I don't want to work with that group" type of complaint. I'd suggest something along the lines of this:

I understand that the group I've been placed with does ABC work. My academic concentration and previous work experience are in XYZ work, which is what I'd like to go into after graduation. I'm wondering what kind of role I would be expected to fill in the group's ABC work, and whether this might not be the best match for me.

It could be that the group is looking to do some work of the XYZ variety, but nobody in the group has the relevant skills/interest. Maybe they actually do similar things to what you want, and you just don't have a clear picture. It's also possible that the company wanted you to come back to intern again, but this was the only group with such an opening. We (strangers on the internet) can only speculate - only the employer can tell you why you were placed in such a way.

If they can't place you with a group doing the kind of work you're interested in, your choices are to accept the role they offer you or to find an internship elsewhere.

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