Not all internships are created equal. It’s mid-summer and by now, quite a few interns are probably beginning to realize that their program is not as great as they expected. Whether you’re dealing with an overworked supervisor who barely has any time to give you assignments, or are having difficulty being taken seriously as a slightly older intern, here are few tips to help you make the most out of an less-than-stellar internship.
Make sure that you have enough time to actually get something out of the internship.
A few years ago, I interned at a small publication for about two days a week. It was my junior year of college and I was feeling a little behind. I’d had internships in the past, but they were all at small start-ups and I wanted another name on my resume.
So, I added an internship to an already-full schedule of college courses and part-time work. As a result, I didn’t get much out of the program. I was only able to complete so many projects and none of the staff members got to know me, leaving me with a tiny amount of material for my portfolio and zero connections — two of the major reasons why we enter into internships in the first place. I should have adjusted my schedule, but I was too proud to admit that I was overloaded and I paid the price.
For post-grad interns, this is an even more pressing concern. With real bills and responsibilities come real time constraints. Try to be realistic about the amount of time that you can invest in an internship or educational side project and remember, communication is key. If you’re feeling overwhelmed and need to make some adjustments, it is always better to speak up than to disappear.
Do not be easily discouraged by rude/unhelpful superiors.
On the very first day of one of my internships, the employee who was supposed to be my supervisor met with me for about five minutes to brainstorm projects for me to tackle. Given that I was a college student with very little experience, my first ideas were way off base. He cut me off mid-talk with an eyeroll and a “I don’t have time for this” and basically never spoke to me again. This was supposed to my supervisor.
It’s been years, and this exchange is something that I haven’t forgotten — not just because it was rude and dismissive, but because I shut down after that. For a while, I lost confidence and almost quit… until another employee kindly took me under her wing and put me to work. I made sure to do my very best at every task she gave me, but I still wanted to kick myself for allowing someone to make me feel inadequate and knocking me off of my game.
After he said that, I should have 1) complained to the person that hired me and 2) started looking for other opportunities to learn. The thing was, I didn’t know that I could do any of that. I was too inexperienced and too busy feeling like a failure. His assumptions about me and my abilities were his problem. Me shrinking into the background because of his poor opinion of me was mine.
Remember why you are there: to build your skillset and make connections. This is about you. This is not about the person that doubted you. Be confident, push past them and internally cackle as you crush. every. task. you’re. given.
…but only after you research it yourself, first. Google is one of the single best inventions of this past century. If it’s something general like “What is a QED report?” look it up yourself. That way, any follow up questions you have can be informed, valuable inquiries that not only make you look good, but also help you to learn more about your field, which is the entire point.
It might seem like the simplest advice in the world, but sometimes, when I’ve been given vague instructions, my first impulse is to panic because I don’t know what to do. A quick internet search can make all the difference.
It is so, so important to speak up for yourself, but it can be a major challenge, especially as an intern. Women are socialized to be “nice,” which can be a hindrance in the workplace, making it difficult to ask for more challenging tasks, or to speak up if you feel like you’re being overlooked.
If you find it difficult to be direct and specific about what you want or need, flesh out your thoughts beforehand. Practice in the mirror, write yourself a script — whatever you need to do to feel confident. Be polite, be firm and make sure to stress the ways that these changes will not only help you, but help your department or program.