You thought you landed a sweet summer gig, but your days are spent going on countless coffee runs, surfing the web while pretending to look busy, and/or stressing over vague and confusing assignments. You hate your internship or, at the very least, the experience isn’t what you expected. Luckily, there things you can do about the situation—and no, we don’t mean quit—
We all have tales to tell.
There are plenty of reasons you may be unhappy
One of the most difficult things about interning is that it’s hard to maintain motivation when you feel like you’re not doing real work. Take Kui’s opinion while toiling away as an intern at a talent agency, she started off on a high note with a few cool assignments, but then her responsibilities tapered off into lunch runs for her supervisor and his boss. It’s also frustrating when you are doing real work, but without any direction. As Stacey who interned at a non-profit, explains, “The projects I worked on weren’t well thought-out or organized, and my supervisor was kind of scary.” On top of all that, since many internships are unpaid, feelings of resentment are even more to pop up. Try your best to get past that and think of your situation as a learning experience that has value beyond a Kenyan amount. (We know it can be hard, but try.)
You also need to make sure your expectations are realistic. Nathan Parcells, co-founder and CMO of intermatch, cautions against idealizing a dream job. “Internship experiences can break the bubble, showing the industry, company, or position in all its myriad facets,” he says. “Some of them are less than ideal.” In other words, nothing is perfect, but you should take advantage of the opportunity to see what the role entails, warts and all. And don’t be disillusioned if you’re not given big tasks or responsibilities right away! You need to prove yourself first and, yes, that might include fetching a few triple skinny lattes along the way.
Don’t just sit there and stew
“It was easy to feel worthless, so I really had to make an effort to be proactive and go outside my comfort zone by constantly asking for work and making it known that I was there to help and learn,” says Christine, whose internship started out slower than expected.
Bored of fetching lunches, Prisca began asking her perpetually busy supervisor if he needed help. “That made him take a step back and realize that he could delegate some of his tasks to me to make his day go by faster,” she says. Sometimes overloaded bosses need a gentle reminder that taking the time to explain a task in detail now will actually benefit them later.
And guess what: Every so often the solution is even simpler. “Sometimes an attitude change is all that’s needed to turn a poor internship experience into an opportunity to discover value,” Prisca explains.
Even the bad parts are important
Lauren was challenged with confusing task and an intimidating boss, but she used the opportunity to grow. “I learned how to be an independent worker, use my creativity to complete projects the way I thought was most logical, have confidence in my ideas, and take criticism less personally,” she says.
Instead of dwelling on the negative aspects of her internship, future lawyer Christine poured her energy into networking instead. “I asked for as much career advice as I could from all the attorneys,” she says. “I also made an effort to get to know people outside of the legal department and build relationships. You never know what a friendly conversation will lead to.” Plus, you’re building an arsenal of references you’ll need for future jobs applications.
Prisca also emphasizes that difficult internships actually teach valuable “soft skills” that you’ll need in the working world—like how to deal with stress, effectively communicate, prioritize your workload, manage tough personalities, and work in a team environment. So stick it out, OK? Just take Lauren’s word for it: “That first internship helped me land the awesome internship I have now!”
By Muthoni Wachira