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Bad Internship Experience? 6 Things to Do ASAP

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Maybe you spent hours and hours applying to find the right internship, landed one, then spent more hours and hours in the internship — and had a bad internship experience.

It’s hard not to feel like an internship was a waste of time if you hated it, but luckily, that’s not true. Even if you disliked your internship, chances are you still gained valuable skills and connections, and might have even learned a little more about what career is right for you.

Here’s how to turn a bad internship experience into a great learning experience.

1. Make a List of What You Didn’t Like…

Knowing what you don’t like at work can be just as insightful as what you want out of a career — because you’ll learn to avoid those negatives in the future. So get specific about what you didn’t like about your internship.

  • Your responsibilities. Were you uninterested or bored by your everyday tasks? Were there specific programs or skills you had to use that you didn’t like? 
  • Your manager. It’s not uncommon for people to dislike or even leave a job because of their boss; 82% of U.S. employees say they’d likely quit a job because of a bad manager. If you didn’t like your manager, ask yourself: What about their leadership style bothered you? Why do you think you didn’t mesh well with them?
  • Your working environment. If you were in a hybrid or fully in-office position, did you dislike your working environment? Maybe you were in a hybrid role but would prefer one day in the office a week instead of four. Perhaps you were in a fully in-office position but would like the flexibility to work from home every so often. 

2. …and a List of What You Did Like

Chances are, you didn’t hate *every* second of your bad internship experience. So, what did you enjoy? 

Again, be specific. Did you enjoy the brainstorming meetings with your coworkers? Or did you like the independent writing time you had to work on marketing copy? What about when you learned that new Excel trick? Did you love the office team-building activities? The work-life balance? Consider everything you enjoyed about the internship, from the tasks you worked on to the kinds of meetings you attended.

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3. Know That Any Experience Can Be Transferable

Even if you didn’t like the entire internship experience, chances are, “you probably learned some valuable skills,” Beth Hendler-Grunt, president of Great Next Step, a career coaching site for students and graduates, says. “You understand what it’s like to work in a professional setting, and you have hopefully made some connections that you can leverage in the future.” 

Update your resume with your internship experience, including any hard and soft skills you gained over the summer. Even if you know you want to pursue a different career path, your experience and skills are likely valuable when applying to future internships. It’s all about how you frame them. 

>>MORE: What Are Transferable Skills? Definition and Examples

For example, if you learned excellent presentation skills during your finance internship, these skills can transfer if you’re looking for a product internship next season. Instead of saying that you can “present financial models,” tell your future internship manager that you can “break down and present complex topics to relevant stakeholders.” 

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4. Stay Connected

“Don’t burn any bridges,” Hendler-Grunt advises. “Connect with everyone you met on LinkedIn and be gracious and thankful to those who trained you and invested time to support you.” 

Even if you don’t imagine yourself working with these people again, it’s respectful to show gratitude and essential to maintain relationships — because you never know how a networking connection can help your future career.

“Some of these connections may lead you to another opportunity somewhere else,” Hendler-Grunt says.

5. Talk to Professionals

To try and avoid another bad internship experience, learn more about a career path and someone’s “day in the life” by setting up an informational interview with a professional in the field. This is a great way to get an “inside view” into what a career is actually like — so you have a better understanding of different internships, roles, and companies.

“Ask them how they got started, what lessons were learned, and about the challenges they face in the job,” Hendler-Grunt says. 

Make sure to follow up with them and thank them for their time, even if you know you don’t want to pursue their industry further.

>>MORE: Top 15 Informational Interview Questions to Ask (and Why)

6. Try Other Fields and Roles First

Dip a toe into a prospective industry before committing to your next internship. Get a clearer picture of different career paths and internships to narrow down which ones you should apply to. This research will hopefully help you land on one you’ll like rather than regret. 

One free and easy way to try out an industry, role, or company is to enroll in a Forage job simulation. Take a free, bite-sized, self-paced course on a career path you’re interested in and get a sense of the kind of work you’d be doing in an entry-level role. You’ll know what fields you’re interested in, gain some valuable hard and soft skills along the way, and show companies you’re a high-intent candidate — more than tripling your chances of getting hired.

Career Path You’re Interested InForage Job Simulation to Try
AccountingKoch Industries Accounting
Client ServiceBloomberg Client Service 
ConsultingBCG Introduction to Strategy Consulting
DataAccenture Data Analytics and Visualization
Designbp Digital Design & UX
Health CareThermo Fisher Genetic Sciences
Human ResourcesGeneral Electric Explore Human Resources
Investment BankingJ.P. Morgan Investment Banking 
LawMayer Brown Introduction to Litigation
Marketinglululemon Omnichannel Marketing
Product ManagementElectronic Arts Product Management
SalesRed Bull On-Premise Sales
SecurityMastercard Cybersecurity 
Software EngineeringWells Fargo Software Engineering

Bad Internship Experiences: The Bottom Line

It can be frustrating to spend hours working and end up with a bad internship experience. However, not everything is lost — you now know what you don’t like in a work environment, responsibilities, or teammates, and it’s likely you learned some valuable skills and made connections along the way.

The next step is continuing your lifelong journey of figuring out what you want to do! This takes time and you might not always get it right immediately. That’s OK. Having bad internship experiences and roles you don’t love can be frustrating, but they get you one step closer to finding your dream job.

Ready to figure out what job is right for you? Take our ultimate career quiz.

Image Credit: Andrea Piacquadio / Pexels

Zoe Kaplan is a Senior Writer at Forage. Prior to joining Forage, she wrote and edited career and workplace content for Fairygodboss, the largest career community for women.

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