You thought you’d done the right thing by landing a summer internship (maybe without any work experience), but the school year is here and you regret the hours you spent in the role. 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 not-so-great internship into a great learning experience.
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. Was it:
- 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. While only 2.2% of internships this summer were completely virtual, 16% of companies offered fully remote roles last year, and the number is only growing. 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.
…and a List of What You Did Like
Chances are, you didn’t hate *every* second of your internship. 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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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.
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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“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.
Test the Waters
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.
- Conduct informational interviews. 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. “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.
- Try a Forage virtual work experience program. 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.
- Do your research. The more you can find out about a potential internship, the better. Don’t be afraid to reach out to past interns and current internship managers and ask them to share their experiences or more about the program.
Hating an internship doesn’t mean you’ve wasted a summer. Hopefully, you’ve come out of it knowing what you don’t want in a job and with some connections and new skills.
Looking for internship alternatives? Learn nine ways to get work experience without an internship.
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