The right internship can help you choose a career, develop your skillset and build the foundation of a professional network that will stick with you long after you’ve moved on to bigger and more lucrative things.
But what if your internship isn’t the right internship? What if it kind of stinks?
It’s small consolation to know that you’re not alone in being miserable in this gig. Popular culture teems with examples of dejected interns making copies and fetching coffee for their ingrate bosses — all for the low, low price of none dollars and none cents (plus some college credit). And most moguls have stories about their hateful internship and how it made them the success they are today.
But you’re not there yet. Maybe 20 years from now, you’ll enjoy regaling the kids with tales of your journey from rags to riches. Today, you just need to figure out how to make the best of a bad situation — bonus points if you can actually boost your career along the way.
1. Figure Out Why You Hate Your Internship So Much
There are many kinds of horrible internships. Your goal: figure out which one you’re stuck in, currently.
Maybe you don’t have anything to do, or maybe your tasks are unrelated to your career path. Perhaps you’re not learning anything new, or the stuff you’re learning is making you think you’ve made the wrong career choice altogether. Maybe your boss is loathsome, your team obnoxious, and the other interns seemingly from another planet than your own.
Pay attention. If you get nothing else out of this experience besides learning what you don’t want to do, or what kind of team/company isn’t a good fit for you, you’ll have earned a good return on your investment of time.
Plus: you might find opportunities to get more than a life lesson out of the experience.
2. Focus on What You Can Change
Now that you know what your problem is, look for opportunities to solve it … or at least improve it.
For example, let’s say you hate your boss. (One of the biggest problems for any worker — intern or employee.) You probably can’t change their behavior, but you can learn to deal with it, either by looking for ways to improve the relationship or by seeking opportunities to help out on other teams, or both.
Or maybe you don’t have enough to do – an easier problem to solve. Keep your eyes open for chances to volunteer for projects that interest you. Even if your contribution is still low-level, you’re more likely to learn skills that will boost your profile later on.
3. Broaden Your Vision
Whenever you’re stuck in a not-so-great situation at work, it’s easy to get tunnel vision. Don’t let your horizons shrink down to what’s in front of you. Look for chances to connect with colleagues, volunteer for projects, learn new things – even if those opportunities aren’t right in front of you.
4. Build Those Connections
One of the most valuable benefits of internships is the chance to build your network. If you’re just starting out, this is probably more useful to you even than new skills or work experience. So, make some friends. Hang out with your fellow interns. Join the company book club or softball team. Make connections that will outlast your horrible internship.
5. Learn One Thing
If all else fails, focus on learning one thing from this experience. Maybe that one thing will be a new skill that you can put on your resume. Maybe it will just be how to deal with difficult people. But whatever you get from it, remember that part of what internships teach us is how to make opportunities and deal with professional environments. It that’s all you take away from this, that’s more than enough.
Tell Us What You Think
Have you survived a horrible internship? Our readers want to hear from you. Share your survival tips in the comments or join the conversation on Twitter.