4 Coping Tips for Surviving a Crummy Internship

Sometimes bad internships happen to good interns. Here's how to deal.


If you were eager to get your foot in the door through an internship, but have been let down with your actual experience, read on. Not every internship is ideal, but there are measures you can take to make the most of your experience so that you come out better for having had it.

1. First, identify your beef. What don't you like about your internship? Maybe you're insulted that you signed on to learn how to work on a product launch, but you're actually getting the boss coffee and running his errands. Realize that's pretty common in the intern world, and sometimes it's the price you pay to climb the ladder.

Are you upset because you're essentially giving away free labor? There's much debate over whether internships should pay or not, and many do pay, but they're harder to get. So if you're in an unpaid internship, your program may be less structured and you may get less out of it. Comfort yourself with the fact that it'll look good on your résumé.

Or is your issue with the people you work with? Maybe you feel you're being abused by co-workers who see you as the perfect gofer. If people other than your boss are requesting your services, talk to your boss about whom you should support, and let him clear it up.

2. Manage your expectations. An internship, by its nature, is going to involve some grunt work. It may not be clear to you how pouring coffee prepares you for a career in marketing, but your boss may be testing you to see how committed you are to learning the ropes.

Interns, to many companies, are a liability. They require more hand-holding and help, and many bosses are reluctant to hand over "real" work to you as a result.

If you can, start your internship out on the right foot by making a list of what you expect to get out of it. Discuss your expectations with your boss to see what aligns with what he expects of you.

3. Remember the future benefit of an internship. It may be hard to believe, but your bad internship may help you, at least in the future. Even if you didn't feel like you got much out of your experience, you've met people at a company you can apply to work with in the future. In fact, many companies will hire interns at the end of their program, so make it known that you're interested, if that's an option. Chances are a full-time position will be much better than your internship.

You may not be assigned the high-level tasks you hoped to learn in your internship, but you can put your experience on your résumé. Keep in mind: simply stating that you interned with a well-known company isn't enough to impress hiring managers. Focus on the positive aspects you've learned in working with this company.

4. The best advice. If you're in an internship you're struggling to enjoy, focus on what you can learn. Even if you're not given big tasks, watch those who do the work and ask questions. Meet as many people as possible, and let them know of your enthusiasm for the work.

Stay in contact with those folks after you finish your internship. It always helps to have contacts in the industry you want to work in.

Lindsay Olson is a founding partner and public relations recruiter with Paradigm Staffing and Hoojobs.com, a niche job board for public relations, communications, and social media jobs. She blogs at LindsayOlson.com, where she discusses recruiting and job search issues.

Generation Y

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