Surviving a Lousy Internship

Frustrated student looking at a computer

Internships are often talked about as a make-or-break experience for your career: They can propel you into a future job, give you important skills, and grow your resume. So what happens when your internship is less-than-stellar? You don’t like the work, the company isn’t what you expected, or your supervisor isn’t helpful. Was the whole thing a waste of time?

It might not be. Take the opportunity to reframe the experience and get something useful out of it.

Get some support

First, let’s be clear that we’re talking about a sub-par internship experience. If you feel like your safety is at risk or have questions about legal or ethical issues at your internship, talk to your HR representative or a career counselor immediately.

If you aren’t enjoying your internship or feel like it’s lacking some way, the first step is to talk about your concerns with your supervisor. If your supervisor is part of the issue, talk with a trusted confidant. This could be your roommate, a professor, career counselor, or parent. Ask for their candid advice and feedback.

Recognize what you have control over and what you don’t

There may still be time to salvage things. Consider ways that you might be able to change your situation. If:

  • you don’t like the work: Can you ask for an additional project?
  • you sense that you’re in over your head: Can you ask for help or attend a training?
  • you feel bored: Can you take initiative and find additional projects to do?

Don’t wait for someone else to fix the problem; take action and change the things you have control over.

Take the chance to narrow down your interests and goals

You may not have control over the things that are making the internship crummy. Instead, use them as an opportunity to identify the qualities that are important to you in a future career. If:

  • the job was monotonous: You may need a job with lots of variety and room for innovation.
  • you were frustrated with your boss’ style: Ask about your supervisor’s style when you interview at future jobs.
  • you learned that you don’t like this industry: Think of this internship as a chance to try something out, and you’ll have an opportunity to try something new in your next internship/job.

Still feeling stuck in a bad internship? Come talk it through with a Career Counselor in Drop Ins or an appointment.

— Amanda Chase, Internship Coordinator, Career Center

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