We are half way through July, which means a lot of you are wrapping up your 10 or 12 week internships. Some of you are uploading pictures from cool intern outings to Facebook, playing ping pong in the office, and being asked to come back next summer. For some of you, the reality has finally set in: you hate your internship. Between your horrible boss, the mindless tasks they give you, and the corporate politics you can't stand, you're about ready to hit the door. You might think you've wasted a summer somewhere you didn't want to be, but the good news is it's almost over.
You might be wondering: How do I talk about my internship if I hate it? What if they do or don't ask me to come back? How do I explain my internship experience in a interview? How do I turn this negative into a positive? How will I figure out what I want to do with my career?
Making lemonade out of internship lemons isn't exactly the easiest task, but it can be done. The key is reimagining, reframing, and repurposing your internship experience to fit your career narrative. These are the keys:
1) Discover what you do like by doing what you don't. Last summer I was convinced I wanted to be an IT project manager, so I took on an internship doing just that. I was tasked with organizing and planning, setting deadlines and milestones, and herding sheep. Even thought I wasn't bad at it, I realized it wasn't my calling. This helped me so I wouldn't make the mistake of going down the wrong career path. It was a learning experience more than anything.
2) Frame your experience as a challenge. Whether your had to compile a database of every freckle faced dog owner in the Southeastern United States or you had to delivery coffee to cranky execs all summer, try to remember that experience as challenge. Doing something over and over again is a test of patience and respect for the process. Doing something difficult is going out of your comfort zone. Either way, try to recall that experience in a way that shows what skills you used or gained.
3) Talk about what you did, not how you felt about it. When you're interviewing for a semester-long job or next summer's internship, you'll probably be asked about what you did and how it's relevant to what you want to do. Tell them exactly that, what you did and how it's relevant and try your best to leave your feelings out of it. Sometimes it's easier to recall things based on how they make us feel instead of the simple facts. If they do indeed ask how it was a challenge for you, feel free to talk about how the experience shaped you.
4) Think about what you learned and write it down. Maybe you learned how to fold t-shirts military-style, or learned how to fix an old Windows machine, or learned the difference between sautéing and sweating. No matter what, no matter how big or small, relevant or metaphoric, you learned something. Make sure you write it down. Reflection is the best way, and who knows, maybe the experience sounds better on paper than it did when it was happening!
5) Be grateful. One of my favorite quotes from Oprah Winfrey reads:"Be thankful for what you have; you'll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don't have, you will never, ever have enough."
Sometimes we (myself included) get so caught up in what we don't have, we don't take the time to think about what we do have. A lot of people graduate from college without an internship experience, maybe because they didn't have the grades or the access. Every time I thought about that, I put my head back down and bust my ass until it was time to go home.
Sometimes changing our situation is beyond our control. It's unrealistic to up and quit in the middle of an internship, especially if you're getting paid or getting class credit. But what we can do is change how we view our situation. Turning that "negative" into a positive is the major key.