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5 Ways to Turn a Negative Internship Around


You're supposed to love your summer internship, but why are you finding yourself with your head in the clouds all the time, dreaming of what you would be doing if you were at your actual dream internship? Maybe you weren't lucky enough this year to land your number one internship. Maybe your internship isn't turning out to be what you thought it would be. Or maybe you just didn't start your internship off on the best foot and are seriously struggling with your assignments.

If the first half of your summer internship didn't go too well, Her Campus is here to help! Check out these five tips for turning your internship experience around and ending on a fabulous note.

1. Put it in perspective

Before you decide to spill all your troubles to your supervisor, take a step back and look at things objectively. Ask yourself why the internship isn't going that well. Why aren't you liking the work? Is the internship different than what you expected? Is your supervisor hard to work for?

Also, be aware of the things you’re doing at the internship. Maybe there are improvements you could make that will help you leave a better impression at work. Should you come in a little earlier every day so you seem more eager? Maybe you're a little bit too quiet and you need to take more initiative. It's helpful to pinpoint the causes of your negative internship experience and to see what you can do to change your situation before going to others for help.

Better yet, jot down these questions and answers in a journal, since research shows that writing can be therapeutic. Try to work through your problems on paper. A helpful first step to turning any bad internship experience around is identifying the problems and their sources. Then, write down possible ways to work through these issues on your own. Maybe you need to do more research to better complete the tasks at hand, or maybe you need to work on your Excel skills in order to finish your assignments. Whatever it is, it can be figured out on paper!

2. Take initiative

Tired of making batches of coffee every day or organizing folders until your head hurts? That would make even the most patient of interns frustrated! Spice up your internship by taking initiative and finding meaningful work for yourself. Ask your manager or other people around the office for more work and experience, offering to help with tasks that no one else has time for.

"Ask around; maybe someone in another department has more interesting work for you to do," says Amanda Lee, a peer career advisor at Ithaca College. "Staying busy helps the time pass, and you might gain some new connections or knowledge along the way."

If you're having a hard time with your assignments, there's no need to pull your hair out in frustration. Actively seek out help from mentors and supervisors. Ask for critiques and ways to improve. More often than not, they'll be more than happy to help you do better, and they'll be impressed by your determination to succeed!

Taking initiative doesn't even have to be confined to your workplace. There are plenty of ways to improve your internship experience outside of the nine-to-five trudge. "You could try to fill whatever time you’re not spending at the internship with more enjoyable experiences," says Leonie Cohen, a career peer advisor at Swarthmore College. "If you’re not learning what you had hoped to learn from the internship, buy some books and read them in your free time. You can really learn a lot from the leaders of your field."

How did Barbara Corcoran turn $1,000 into a billion-dollar real estate company? For the entrepreneurs at heart, check out her autobiography, Shark Tales. Curious about how Banana Republic was created? Give Wild Company by Mel and Patricia Ziegler a try. Wonder how Apple became so wildly successful? Try Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. These leaders would never let a bad internship experience get in the way of their goals, so why should you? You can create opportunities for yourself to learn and grow, even if you're currently buried in mountains of papers to copy and folders to file.

3. Bond with your coworkers

Liking the people you work with contributes so much to a positive internship experience, so if you're finding yourself not really clicking with the people with whom you work closely, take the time to get to know your other coworkers better. Reach out to fellow interns and suggest grabbing lunch. Maybe even throw an intern party on a Friday night and keep things casual with pizza and some movies.

To get to know other employees beside your fellow interns, consider participating in professional activities outside of the office, like going to after-work meals, joining an office-organized sports team or even participating in that office scavenger hunt HR keeps bugging people to join.

"Develop and manage relationships with colleagues that may end up being advocates and/or serve as references for you in future internship and job searches," says Kimberly Gustafson, an assistant director and career counselor at Bates College. "Aspire to identify a mentor that can offer helpful guidance in the future."

Of course, coworkers are not for gossiping or complaining to, even if they are your friends. No matter how much you need to vent about your work troubles, remember to always stay professional. Words seem to have a way of getting around in the office—even to your boss! Instead, talk about the things you're learning at work, interesting projects and common interests. "Do not vent [about] work to colleagues; confidentiality is often not upheld," Gustafson says. "Confide in and seek advice from trusted mentors, your career adviser, family members, friends."

By networking, you'll gain learning opportunities from professionals, stay active at your internship and connect with your coworkers. You'll also feel like you're in a more supportive environment. Bonding with people makes any experience better, and having a few more friendly faces at work can do wonders!

4. Speak with your supervisor

Of course, if nothing you're doing is really helping, don't hesitate to talk with your internship supervisor. Often a negative internship experience has very little to do with the intern herself and more to do with the working environment. It's important to be on the same page as your supervisor in regards to your responsibilities and expectations, and if you feel like there might be some kind of miscommunication between the two of you, take the time to reconnect. 

"If [your supervisors] are not staying true to what they had promised when they offered you the position, remind them of their promises," Leonie says. "Talk to your mentor and see if you can reach a compromise. You want to find a balance between representing yourself and remaining respectful."

Be honest with your supervisor about your concerns and do what you can without overstepping your boundaries. Sometimes a small reminder is all your supervisor needs to make some changes to your work description. If your internship doesn't meet your expectations, ask to meet with your supervisor to go over any learning contracts or position descriptions that were made at the beginning of the internship and your progress in following them.

If you're looking for more challenging tasks, maybe say, "I noticed X area could really benefit from Y; would you like me to look into it?"

If you're not doing too well with your assignments, ask your supervisor for critique and suggestions for improvement. "Communicate openly but diplomatically with your supervisor and colleagues," Gustafson says.

If you're really unhappy with your work, however, you could suggest spending half of the week interning with another part of the company or ask your supervisor if there is another job they could have you do. Try something along the lines of, "I'm having a really hard time with my current position because of X, Y and Z, but I would definitely like to work something out and maybe try something different and continue working at this company. What would you suggest I do?"

No matter what, remember to always be diplomatic, positive and professional.

5. View your internship as a learning experience

It's pretty hard to plaster on a smile when you feel like you're just being used for manual labor, but it's all about attitude and professional behavior. Staying positive and demonstrating professionalism, even if you're having trouble doing well on assignments or staying awake through the never-ending barrage of menial tasks, is so important for turning your internship around.

"Demonstrate professionalism at all times, even as you are struggling to keep smiling," Gustafson says. "Showcase your impeccable work ethic and unwavering dedication by cheerfully taking on any task that comes your way, menial or otherwise."

Instead of getting frustrated at the difficulty or the pointlessness of it all, try to view your internship as a learning experience, and you can't go wrong. "Maybe you didn’t land your dream internship this year, but that doesn’t mean you can’t try hard now," Amanda says. "The experience itself may provide for some new adventures; you might learn about a new field that interests you or find someone new to network with. Stay curious and ask questions, which shows initiative, and remember that there’s always more to learn."

To stay positive and upbeat, try exercising during your lunch breaks to release endorphins in your brain. Maybe pack some of your favorite healthy snacks to keep you going through the day. Or, put in some headphones and crank up some happy tunes as you go about your tasks ("Happy" by Pharrell Williams was made for this!). Do whatever you need to do to focus on the positive aspects of your internship experience.

"Stay positive and look for opportunities to both contribute and learn; it is possible to spin a positive story to tell in future networking conversations and interviews," Gustafson says. "Exercise tolerance and do not let your challenges affect your attitude and productivity."

Learning what you don't like to do is also a great takeaway from a negative internship experience. Use that newfound knowledge to avoid similar work situations in the future and narrow down your list of potential careers.

"Inside, you may be thinking, ‘I never want to do this again’; use that as motivation," Amanda says. "If you’re stuck at a boring summer internship, recognize and reflect on your own interests and use that to figure out some things you might want to do next summer."

Hang in there! The beauty of summer internships is that they only last a couple of months, so you're already in the final stretch. "No matter what, there are always more opportunities for you to have in summers and years to come, and there is something you can take away from any experience," Leonie says. Stay positive and keep these tips in mind, and you'll be turning your drab internship into a fab internship in no time!

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