Discovering your career, The internship series

I hate my internship. Now what?

Read these 5 tips to make the most of of a less-than-ideal situation.

What do you do if you hate your internship? Many students have shown up to an internship and realized, “This isn’t what I expected.” Maybe you’re in a very narrow role that doesn’t meet your expectations. Or maybe you feel that the work is too challenging for you. Here are 5 tips to nudge things in the right direction, and make the most of your internship.

Identify what’s bothering you

First, pause and think about what makes you feel like you hate your internship.* It may be boring, you may have little access to colleagues, or you feel the assignment is a bad match for your skills. 

Andrew, who graduated from Boston University in 2018, had a classic example of an internship that wasn’t what he hoped it would be. The summer after his first year, he interned with a small financial planning firm. But he didn’t expect to be assigned a tedious data-entry project, with no opportunities to observe how the firm worked with clients.

As you think through what is bothering you, write down a list of possible solutions. What would make the internship more worthwhile to you? More one-on-one time with colleagues? Shadowing client calls? If you feel like you aren’t able to keep up with the pace, what kind of support do you need?

Or perhaps you’ve realized that this career path is a bad fit for you. Still, any experience gives you valuable information about your strengths and preferences. Even if you find out what you don’t want to do, you’ve saved yourself a lot of future disappointment and can correct your course.

*When we talk about an internship you don’t like, we don’t mean putting up with a verbally abusive boss, or the company doing something illegal. Those are valid reasons to leave!

Talk to your boss or internship coordinator

Once you know what you’re missing, it’s time to respectfully bring it up to your boss. (You may also have an internship coordinator that you can speak with). Your supervisor may have flexibility to give you new projects, or be able to connect you with other departments you’re curious about. You won’t know until you ask!

Andrew tried to make the most of his internship by asking to learn more about his boss’ business. Although he wasn’t able to shadow client calls, his boss offered regular one-on-one time to answer Andrew’s questions about the finance industry. Andrew’s advice? “Even if you don’t like the work, at least talk to the people that work there. Don’t be afraid to ask them to set up a time and talk about what their day-to-day is like.”

If you’re struggling with the work load or applying new skills in your internship, talk openly to your supervisor. Managers prefer to know as early as possible when you’re struggling—not near the end of a project you couldn’t complete. They can work with you to make sure you get the resources, training or support you need.

Keep it polite

It can be frustrating to be stuck doing work that you don’t want to be doing. But you can still make connections and get a recommendation from an internship you didn’t like—as long as you are respectful and make an honest effort. (That means you don’t spend all day on Slack telling everyone, “I hate my internship!”) This is an opportunity to build your network, even if the specific role or company wasn’t a fit. And it’s still giving you professional experience that you can put on your resume!

Remind yourself that the internship is only a few weeks of your life, and you can search for something better next time. 

Resign gracefully, if you choose

Before you quit, give the internship at least a couple weeks after you’ve talked with your supervisor about your concerns. And talk to a trusted friend, professor or mentor to get a second opinion. Keep in mind that you’ll have to explain your early exit to future employers, which could affect your shot at future internships.

But if you’re still ready to leave, read our blog post on how to resign from an internship. 

Reflect and correct your path

After you’ve completed your internship, take some time to journal and reflect on what you liked and what you didn’t like, and why. This is a great time to make an appointment with your career services center—they can help you think through your next career move, now that you’ve had some work experience. Be sure to update your Handshake profile with your new experience and skills.

Then, keep in touch with your internship colleagues and fellow interns! You never know who they can introduce you to in the future.

Andrew stayed at his internship through the summer, but the experience made him rethink his interest in finance. He added international relations alongside his economics major. He also went on to study abroad and explore a range of internships and work-study jobs in PR, fundraising and project management. Knowing what he didn’t like eventually helped guide him to his current role in marketing, which he loves.

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