5 Ways to Get More Out of An Underwhelming Internship

5 Ways to Get More Out of An Underwhelming Internship

Summer is the perfect time for students to venture out of the classroom, land amazing internships, and start to build professional skills and connections in the real world. Unfortunately, though, not all internships are the incredible learning experiences they’re expected to be. While there are, of course, great programs out there that are set up to teach students what they’re going to need to know in future jobs, there are also some underwhelming internships that are made up of little more than printing documents and making coffee runs.

Unfortunately, some of us have experienced a less-than-productive internship before—it’s a frustrating spot to be in, to say the least. If you’re halfway through the summer and you start to realize that you’re not getting anything out of your time in the office, you might start to wonder if it’s even worth staying through to the end. However, there’s always something to gain from any opportunity—it just takes a little extra time and effort on your end. So, if you’re in a not-so-great internship yourself and feeling determined to stick it out and learn something from your experience, keep scrolling for five tips from College Fashionista Community Members on how to make the most your summer internship.

Use This Opportunity to Reshape Your Skills

Internships are a great way to learn about whether a certain career path is right for you, but sometimes, you’re not going to enjoy the role you end up in—especially if the role doesn’t match your skill set.

Community Member Eliana Hamel encountered this problem during her own internship over the past summer. As frustrating as it was, she says that if she had given up, she wouldn’t have learned a valuable lesson. In fact, she told me that “the jobs that you hate are the most beneficial because they teach you your strengths and weaknesses and they allow you to be able to speak more to what you want in a job in the future.” Using her internship experience, Eliana was able to differentiate the skills she was good at from what she needed to work on. From there, she set out to improve on those things—using her underwhelming internship to strengthen her weaknesses—instead of dwelling on what she disliked.

This is a great lesson to learn early on in your career because it can help you to discover what you enjoy and understand what skills you’re best at. For Eliana, she may not have liked what she was doing, but it taught her what tasks she isn’t suited for while helping to shape the skills she would find useful in the future.  

Use Your Co-Workers As Resources

Even if you realize the work you are doing as an intern doesn’t pertain to what you want to learn for your career there are still other ways to gain more knowledge about your field. One of the best options? Simply build relationships with your supervisors and co-workers to learn from their experiences in the industry.

According to Mary Jovanelly, a student at Sacred Heart University, asking questions became a beneficial way to learn about the specific business operations that she knew would see in the career field. “Asking questions can help, because even if it’s a field you might not be interested in, everyone there is older and has so much experience.” Reach out to another employee about the project they’re currently working on or ask for more information about their career—it’s a great way to learn more from your internship while forming beneficial connections.

There’s a lot of great advice you can get from your coworkers, and it’s just a conversation away.  A simple coffee date or an informal meeting can be the best way to learn more about the career path you want to pursue.

Work With Your Team to Find a Suitable Project

During your internship, you might find yourself working on a project that is a bit underwhelming. It may be because it doesn’t showcase your talents, or it is just not on a subject that you’re interested in. A great way to overcome this obstacle is to ask your supervisors for a project that is more suitable for you.

University of Cincinnati student Hannah Tucker did just that. She said, “I worked closely with a coworker to set up a side project that she helped critique and mentor me through.” This way, Hannah was still helping the company with the projects they hired her for, but she was also able to use her time interning to work on a project that she was passionate about. While it may have been hard work, the feedback was beneficial for her to shape her career and improve her portfolio.

If you believe that your internship experience would be more well-rounded with a new project, it might be beneficial to talk to your supervisor about adding a new set of responsibilities to your workload. Be prepared to give a great pitch as to why the project would be beneficial for the company, as well as why it would help better your experience as an intern.

Ask to Shadow an Employee You Admire      

Often as an intern, you will be responsible for completing all of the small assignments that no one wants to do. While these may seem boring, you can always make the most of your situation by asking to shadow employees that you admire.

Virginia Commonwealth University student Samantha went from solely answering phones and booking appointments to shadowing her supervisors so that she could learn what they do on a daily basis. She says that “seeing what the people I worked for did every day made me realize that I was, in fact, interested in the field, and that’s how I got more out of my internship.”

Even if your day-to-day tasks aren’t teaching you anything you feel is valuable, there are sure to be people around you who are doing a job similar to what you want to do in the future.

So reach out to any employees that you might admire and ask to take a couple hours to shadow them. Instead of doing busy work for a day, you may have the chance to sit in on a meeting or assist with a bigger project. You’ll not only learn more about the company and your supervisor’s role but you’ll have a clearer idea as to whether or not the position is something you’re actually interested in.

Ask to Change Departments

As an intern, you may realize that the department you are working in doesn’t suit your skillset or interests, even if you like the company. In this case, consider talking to your supervisor about possible opportunities to intern in other departments within the company.

Hannah found herself in this position while interning for a large firm. She found the internship difficult because many of the supervisors that she worked with did not trust her enough to do the work that excited her so she felt that most days she wasn’t working as much as she wanted to. Ultimately she requested to change departments and, she says, “I eventually got placed on a team where I loved the people and was always busy.” In her situation, a change in the department was what she needed to contribute her best work while enjoying what she was doing.

If you’re not enjoying your internship but you think another department might actually be a better fit, set up a meeting with your supervisor to discuss your options. This can be a tricky subject to bring up, so make sure to respectfully explain why you’d like to explore another department within the company. Come up with some ideas to present, and remember to be open-minded. Your supervisor may say no—after all, they’re probably relying on you to help them for the remainder of the semester—but if that’s the case, use some of the above examples to work out a situation that’s more beneficial to you in the long run.

Have any advice on how to make the most of an underwhelming internship experience? Let us know in the comments below!

Opening image by Kai Li.