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Don’t burn bridges at your internship

Neepa Parikh
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Published on November 12, 2016

A recruiter recently called me to discuss a situation: some of their interns were leaving the internship for a “better” opportunity just a few weeks into their six-month internship! The recruiters at this company make an effort to be as transparent as possible during the recruitment process and candidates are well aware of the length of the internship. Now, I can’t comment as to the quality of the internship or why the interns felt the need to leave after a few weeks. Whatever the reason, if you’re faced with a situation in which a more fitting opportunity comes along, there are a few things to consider before jumping ship.

Understand Before You Accept
I understand that it can be difficult to land a position at a target company, despite our best efforts. There are reasons for taking a less than ideal internship – finances, visa considerations, etc. When offered an internship opportunity, make sure you understand all the components of the internship and if it is in line with your career goals before accepting it. If you are certain that you would leave the internship should a full-time position come along, perhaps you can consider other options, such as working as a temp through a staffing agency. Alternatively, instead of agreeing to a six month internship, you can negotiate for a three month internship. Don’t simply use an internship as a placeholder until something better comes along.

Work with Your Manager
If the internship is not measuring up to the stated expectations, have a conversation with your manager to identify possible solutions. Maybe there is a different project you can work on, or perhaps you need more training to develop and practice the skills necessary to attain your career goals. Your manager will have a difficult time supporting you if you don’t bring up these issues and express what you need. If after having these conversations, you’re still feeling like this internship is not the best fit for you and that the management is not supporting your career growth, the company won’t be surprised if you leave.

Exit Gracefully
Even if you intended to stay at an internship site for the agreed upon length of time, things come up. Many years ago, I underwent a tedious application process for a government position. While I passed all necessary tests and interviews and was slated to be hired, my start date was ambiguous due to state budget cuts. I needed to work so I accepted a temporary position, becoming a permanent hire after a few months of temp work. Within two weeks of starting the full-time position, I received a call from the government agency’s human resources department with a start date of Friday – four days away! I immediately met with my supervisor, explained the situation, and apologized for giving such short notice. The supervisor, having known my career goals, was very understanding and wished me well. Not every supervisor will be as understanding, but if you are faced with a similar situation, try to give as much notice as possible and complete any unfinished projects before leaving.

Hiring an intern or full-time employee requires both human and financial resources on the company’s part. No employer wants to take the time to train an intern just to have that intern leave before expected. You can avoid burning bridges by understanding what you’re getting into, doing your best to honor your commitment, working with your manager to ensure that the internship experience is valuable and diplomatically resigning, if necessary. After all, you may need to use this employer as a reference and want to maintain the best relationship possible. If faced with a sticky situation, talk to your career counselor or a mentor before making any decisions.

Neepa Parikh

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