Getting stuck with a lackluster internship can feel like something straight out of Dante. You went in with high expectations and planned on using this internship as a stepping stone to your first foray into the workforce…and now you find yourself filling coffee orders and shoving paper around more than tapping into your actual skill set.
Manage Your Expectations
Just remember that when you’re first starting out you can’t always call the shots the way someone with an assigned parking spot and a six-figure salary might be able to. Regardless, know that you do have some rights as an intern. If you are unpaid, in particular, your employer should be fostering a learning environment and meeting the DOL’s 6-point internship test. If you are lucky enough to be paid, your rights are similar to those of a regular employee, although if your internship is for academic credit, your employer should still be providing a learning opportunity.
In other words, while we all know that filing and doing rote tasks that don’t necessarily expand your professional credentials can be humbling, that’s no reason to abandon ship just yet. There’s a lot that you still have control over.
Figuring It Out
The initial thing that you need to do is clearly define what it is that you don’t like about the internship. What would you improve? If you could reshuffle your workday to include more exciting and relevant tasks, what would those be?
Your frustration might be something as simple as spending too much time running trivial errands or it might be something more macro like working an unpaid internship. Whatever your beef, identifying the problem allows you to move onto step two.
Next, figure out if it’s the internship itself that’s rubbing you the wrong way or the field and some of the professionals that you work alongside.
If it’s the former, then you might want to consider sticking it out. Almost every professional once had to go through the slog of an internship that was less than completely absorbing. Realize that many – and, in certain industries most – internships directly transition into a job offer (that could be much more exciting to you) so sticking it out might really be in your career’s best interest.
The Internship’s Takeaways
Before throwing in the towel you should be focusing on what you can take away from the internship in terms of added professional skills and networking opportunities.
Along with a potential job offer, a more well-rounded toolbox of professional skills and a few more names in your personal database can really impact your future in ways that make life a whole lot easier down the road. Easier as in a full-time job offer once the internship’s over. In the meantime:
Spend Your Time Wisely
Taking on an internship can be a potential role of the dice, and sometimes that roll doesn’t work totally in your favor. And that’s OK.
Just optimize what you can and avoid things that can sideline you over the long term – things like spending hours every day checking out your friend’s status on social media, checking out burrito “art” on Instagram, or fielding personal calls while on the internship. This internship won’t last forever – and it might even result in a new hiring – so focus on carrying out what your supervisor asks.
Beyond that consider talking to your supervisor and discussing changing your hours or taking on a set of different responsibilities that possibly align more closely with where you see yourself in a couple of years.
Going back to the exercise we mentioned above about identifying exactly what it is that frustrates you about this internship, respectfully frame some of those things as a positive alternative to your supervisor (“more challenging work”) and take it from there. Most supervisors will be happy to oblige and adjust your internship accordingly.