Internship Disappointing? Suck It Up!

Editor’s Note: At YouTern,  we present a wide range of resources and career industry experts – even if their opinion differs from ours – so you can make the most educated, informed career decisions. In this post, we provide a “counter-point” by YouTern contributor Allison Cheston to our “I Want You to Quit Your Internship!”.

So the internship of your dreams has turned out to be nightmarish—and you are counting the minutes until you can jump ship.

Jealous of your friends working for enlightened bosses who are mentoring them while you spend your evenings lamenting your plight and wondering what went wrong. Is it time to quit?

Here are some questions to ask yourself before making any rash decisions:

Have You Been Proactive About Your Responsibilities?

First of all, an internship is often what you make it. If those in charge are too harried (or too bored) to come up with interesting projects for you, why not suggest some? And if it’s not a priority for the organization, you can always offer to work late on your pet project, after you’ve taken care of whatever mundane chores they’ve asked you to complete.

Is the Internship in Your Field of Interest?

If so, I suggest you stick it out. Even if you’re finding the work boring and can’t find opportunities to add interesting projects to your workload, the question you may want to ask yourself is: Can I package the experience for future employers? If the organization is well-known in your field, the fact that you’ve worked there can be monumentally helpful to your career. Weigh how much you can spin the internship on your resume and in interviews—in some cases it may not matter at all what the internship consists of, or your exact role. Just the fact that you’ve worked for an “it” organization is what may count.

What Will You Have Learned By Quitting?

Chances are, when you’ve had some distance from this experience and you’ve left on less than ideal terms, you will feel some regret about having taken the easy way out. If you stay, I can almost guarantee you will learn something about yourself—and become more resilient in the process.

Before quitting, be certain that you’re not burning bridges by leaving early, either with a key player in the organization (who may have numerous contacts in your field of interest), or with someone who helped you secure the internship in the first place.

Try to examine every angle before making the decision to leave—it’s almost always better to suck it up and stay than to leave the impression that you’re not serious or, maybe even worse, be labeled as “entitled” or “unemployable”.

About the Author: Allison Cheston is a New York City-based career advisor who works with mid-career executives and young adults to help them identify their unique value in the marketplace and explore alternative careers. Allison is the author of an upcoming book In the Driver’s Seat: Work-Life Navigation Skills for Young Adults, to help young adults from late high school through college develop strengths and interests and match them to internships, coursework and, ultimately, the right job.

Cheston blogs frequently on career issues for young adults at her own blog, In the Driver’s Seat as well as at The Examiner. She also blogs for mid-career professionals at Twitter. You can reach Allison on Twitter.

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  • That final paragraph says it all.  Great counterpoint!  Leaving an internship is not something to take lightly.  Sticking it out through tough times can let you add “dedication” to your resume, and make it more than just an empty adjective. Ultimately, it’s about the learning experience – and you can’t learn if you bail out before you try to make it better.  Terrific post, Allison – thanks!

    • Anonymous

      Hi Chris,

      Thanks so much for comments. National Elevator Pitch Champion?? I’m buying your book!

  • Something else to add: if the internship is your “field of interest” and you absolutely hate the work, maybe that interest isn’t your interest. It happened to me in college, I had a great internship that should have been interesting and jump started a career. But I just wasn’t that into it by the end.

    • Anonymous

      Jim, that is an excellent point. The important thing to decipher is whether it is that particular organization/boss/environment that you don’t like or the field itself. And that can be tricky when you’re just starting out and don’t have a lot of other experience to weigh. Thanks for mentioning that point.

  • The other thing is to make sure that in the internship, YOU ACTUALLY LEARN SOMETHING. Too many companies offer “internships” which just make you sit around and do nothing even remotely linked to what you want to learn, or simply work you doing menial tasks for some other division. 

    Then there’s the “internships” that are in name only…they are really part-time jobs; you work alongside employees doing the same shit, but they get paid and you don’t. And then there’s the people that THINK they know your area, but really don’t. 

    Bottom line: Some internships are disappointing, and will screw you over. Check your instincts. I’ve been fucked over more than once by them. (Even though I never quit.) 

    • Anonymous

      Thanks James, all good points. And I’m glad you never quit 🙂

  • Ken mcpherson

    Informational interviews with professionals at work could re-kindle curiosity, salvage a disappointing internship and produce referrals to other opportunities elsewhere.

    • Anonymous

      Ken, that’s also a great idea.

  • I’m with you, Allison! I think there is value in staying. I also think that it’s a great time to make a firm list of what you REALLY didn’t like for your next internship search, I find that whether they stay or quit, people continue to just stick with what they are familiar with as they search for jobs (and relationships).