So, you did it—you landed that dream internship. You’re super excited to finally get a taste of the real world, and to get your foot in the door of an actual business. You’ve been promised valuable experience, the opportunity to work on awesome projects, and the chance to build your network with professionals in the work force. There’s no way that this experience could be anything less than completely awesome, right? WRONG.
Sometimes, internships turn out to be nothing like what you were expecting. And sometimes, they just plain suck. Not only are the majority of internships unpaid, but many businesses tend to promise potential interns much more than they actually deliver in terms of value, perks, and experience.
Personally, I’ve had my share of terrible internships. Last summer, I worked with a popular radio station, an internship that was enthusiastically endorsed by one of my close friends. I was told that along with gaining valuable, relevant experience, I’d also get some awesome perks: Meeting celebrities, hanging out backstage at concerts, and helping with the planning and execution of cool events. What did I actually get? None of that. Not only did I have to wake up at 4 AM every morning, but the only thing I did was buy the hosts their morning coffee and their lunch, and answer the phones during the downtime. Oh, and did I mention this was unpaid?
So, your internship isn’t going as planned, and now you’re either a) bored, b) frustrated, c) angry, or d) all of the above. What do you do now?
First of all, don’t just throw in the towel. As Tim, a recent graduate of Berkley College, points out, “You don’t want to become known as the guy/girl that quit. So stick with it.” If you’re planning on building a career in the same region as this internship, keep in mind that businesses (and especially human resources managers) tend to talk with one another. You don’t want to sully your reputation before you even officially enter the workforce.
It’s also helpful to keep in mind that you can probably score a pretty decent recommendation letter out of most internships. As long as you show up, complete your hours, and keep a positive, friendly attitude, most managers will write their interns a nice letter upon the completion of their internship. So even if you’re technically working for free, think of every day as one step towards the glowing recommendation that will pad your resume.
If the main problem behind your internship woes is plain old boredom, don’t just sit there and twiddle your thumbs. Get aggressive. Ashley, a rising senior at Southern New Hampshire University, was left alone for hours at a time with no projects at a previous internship. “I discovered that persistence was the key,” she said. “I just kept asking my managers for work, over and over again, until I eventually was given some new projects." They forget about you if you don’t speak up.”
I spoke with another intern, Chrissy, about her frustrations with her boring internship. “I focused on making friends with the other interns and trying to connect with some of [the firm’s] employees,” she said. “At the very least, having friends to chat with can make the time go by faster.” It can also help you build a personal network—even if you don’t walk out of this particular internship with an increased awareness of your field, you might be able to pull together some business contacts!
If the internship really is just too terrible to continue, all is not lost for the summer. You can still enlist the help of your school to help you transition into another internship. Lauren, currently a marketing manager at an in-house agency, recalls how she bowed out of a disorganized internship during the summer between her junior and senior year. “I was absolutely miserable and getting nothing out of it, so my university found a new internship for me, where I was working with a nonprofit,” she said. “It wasn’t something I thought I’d ever be interested in doing, but I ended up loving it!" Nowadays, Lauren manages her own interns, and she always makes sure to keep them busy and happy.
Have any internship horror stories? Share them, along with your coping strategies.