Do NOT Apply to These Seven Types of Internships!

Updated: June 18, 2023

After reading this article, you’ll:

  • Recognize common red flags and deceptive tactics used in fraudulent internship postings, enabling you to better protect yourself from scams and wasteful opportunities.
  • Gain insights into specific strategies for researching potential internship companies, including understanding their business model, checking their online presence, and evaluating their internship-to-employee ratio.
  • Learn specific advice for navigating remote internships, including spotting red flags unique to remote opportunities, understanding the importance of clear communication channels, and knowing when and how personal information should be shared.

You’ve probably gotten an email or two from an Estonian prince who needs $5,000 ASAP. You know it’s a scam, so you press delete. Unfortunately, some internships can be scams, too, while others are just a waste of time.

Especially now that many employers have gone remote, you need to be extra careful when applying to internships or jobs. There are internships that don’t exist and, even worse, there are those that exist only to rob you of your time and money.

Here at Chegg Internships, we want what’s best for you—and we don’t want fraudulent opportunities to keep you from applying to the many amazing internships out there! So, check out this handy list to figure out what’s what when it comes to a bad internship listing.

1. “The most amazing job in the world. Soooo rewarding! You will love every second.” 

Wow, this job description sounds awesome! But what job is it, really? Listings like this use a lot of positive, exciting words, but tell you next to nothing about what you’ll be doing—a sure sign that something is amiss. In the same spirit, stay away from listings that say, “Will discuss job duties in the interview.” Unless you’re applying to the CIA, no job description needs to be kept under lock and key!

2. Sales, marketing, or business development jobs that mention exorbitant salaries and give few details. 

Sure, you’re an awesome candidate and any company would be lucky to have you. But no one pays their interns $50,000 for a summer. Be very wary of roles offering high salaries, as well as those that paint an overly rosy picture of job responsibilities, cached in vague language (“Grow the business! Build your skills!”). In most cases, these sorts of “opportunities” will be multi-level marketing schemes, where you’re supposed to earn a commission by bringing in other candidates and/or selling useless, expensive products to people in the subway or on the street.

Trust us: You will never see that kind of money doing this kind of work. More importantly, you’re wasting your time learning next to nothing when the whole point of an internship is to build new skills.

3. Two full-time employees and 50 internship listings.

This is a prime example of the importance of doing your research. Before spending an hour tailoring your resume to the internship description, take five minutes to research the company. Check out their website (they should have one), read online reviews on and customer reviews on Yelp, and get a sense of the size and scale of the operation. An easy way to do this is to look up how many other internships they have listed on whichever website you’re using, and then compare that number with their employee headcount. If that ratio looks off or askew, they’re probably using internships as bait for free labor.

Additionally, if a company has 50 five-star reviews, 50 one-star reviews, and nothing in between, it’s  not a great sign. It could indicate that they’re paying/coercing people to post fake reviews, while the one-star reviews reflect the genuine experience of other candidates (such as yourself!).

4. How about an internship at Gooogle or Apelle? 

Going back to the previous point, make sure you research the employer thoroughly. Some shady companies use slightly modified brand names/logos to attract unsuspecting interns. Typos in company names are a sure sign that something’s off. Often, the website will look 100% legitimate, until you notice that URL is wrong. In these cases, interns often work for free—or for commissions that never get paid (which is, of course, the same thing). Worse, they offer little to no academic or professional development in return.

5. “Pay me so I can pay you.”

This is the reddest of the red flags! No legit company charges people to apply for a job or internship. If they can afford to hire people and pay those employees, they can definitely afford to interview you for free. In some cases, these so-called “employers” might disguise their demands for money as payment for marketing materials, office set-up, or some other form of investment you need to make towards getting the role. Needless to say, the only role they’ll offer is the opportunity to fund a bunch of con artists.

6. This is is a win-lose situation.

The core concept of an internship is that it’s meant to teach you something—to enhance your real-world skills in some way. As a bonus, some internships pay you a stipend or help you earn academic credit.  Internships that are all about the employer (increase their sales, help them sell subscriptions, manage their social media presence, etc.) defeat the very purpose of an internship. Even if it’s unpaid, perform this mental test when you see an offer that looks questionable: Ask yourself, “Who does this benefit? What will I gain from this role?” If the answers are skewed heavily in favor of the employer, it’s not a good internship for you.

7. Something is off.

You get an email from a “recruiter,” but their email address is from Gmail or Yahoo. Legitimate companies have their own domain names, so this is a big red flag.

Or maybe they ask you for personal financial information. No employer needs this until you’re signing contracts and getting paid. Finally, keep an eye out for poor grammar and spelling.

You research the company. Did you find multiple internship listings with different titles, but with descriptions that all look the same? You’ve just saved yourself from becoming free labor for a business that needs people but is unwilling to pay for them.

Finally, keep an eye out for poor grammar and spelling. Hiring managers don’t have to be Shakespeare, but anyone who recruits candidate for a living should be able to write a coherent email.

Specific Advice for Navigating Remote Internships

With many employers now offering remote internships, the landscape has changed significantly, and so have the strategies scammers use. Here are a few specific things to watch out for:

Inability to meet in person or virtually

While you may not be in the same geographical location, a reputable employer offering a remote internship will have no problem arranging a video conference for an interview. If they refuse or continually delay a virtual meet-up, it could be a red flag.

Lack of clear communication channels

Reputable remote internships will have clear channels of communication, which could be through email, team collaboration software like Slack, or project management tools like Trello. If a potential employer doesn’t outline how they will communicate with you, or if they only want to use text messages or social media, it may be cause for concern.

Requesting personal information too soon

Be cautious if a potential employer is asking for personal information such as social security numbers or bank account details early on in the process. Legitimate companies typically don’t need this information until you’re signing contracts and setting up payment details.

Vague work expectations

Even for remote internships, the tasks and expectations should be clear. If you’re seeing phrases like “work when you want” or “earn in your spare time,” you may want to probe deeper. These could be signs of a multi-level marketing scheme rather than a legitimate internship.

Investigate their digital presence

An established company should have a digital footprint. This could include a professional-looking website, active social media accounts, and mentions or reviews elsewhere on the web. A lack of online presence might suggest that the company doesn’t actually exist.

Keep in mind that while remote internships provide great opportunities for flexibility and working in different industries, they also require more vigilance to ensure you’re not falling into a scam. Always do your research, ask questions, and trust your instincts.

Most companies seeking interns are looking to provide learning opportunities and cultivate new talent. But there are bad eggs in every basket, and zeroing in on genuine internship listings can be a challenge. Keep your eyes wide open, and the next time you see something that looks a little off, ask yourself these five quick questions:

  1. What is the company’s business/profit model?
  2. What exactly is the role they expect me to perform?
  3. Does this company have enough full-time employees/managers to mentor interns and help them grow?
  4. Do their reviews make sense or do they look dubious?
  5. What will I gain from this internship?

The hunt for the perfect internship can be a challenging task, especially with the potential for scams and poor opportunities. By understanding common red flags, conducting diligent research on potential employers, and being vigilant when navigating remote internships, you can significantly increase your chances of securing a rewarding and beneficial internship. Remember to evaluate each opportunity with a critical eye, focusing not just on the potential gains for the employer, but on what you stand to learn and how it will enhance your professional journey. Arm yourself with knowledge and trust your instincts; the perfect internship is out there waiting for you.