This is a guest post by Meredith Whye for Student Stories.
That’s right, three internships between May 2013 and May 2014.
My internship career started off high up in the Rocky Mountains, working for a summer camp as its media intern. After that, a small campus nonprofit recruited me for PR and social media work and I eventually became its student director. Later on, I applied to a local Internet marketing agency on a whim and was offered a position.
These internships were all equally good and bad in a variety of ways. They gave valuable work experience, but more importantly, they taught me lessons.
One thing I learned from them was to own up to my mistakes so here they are: three lessons I learned from multiple internships in my last year of academia.
1. Get out of your comfort zone
What a cliché lesson but seriously, it’s important. Working at the summer camp, I was surrounded by happy children and hilarious camp counselors. However, I rarely participated in camp games or activities because I felt like I didn’t belong. I was just the girl in the background with the camera.
That was probably my biggest regret of the internship. I wish I had stuck my neck out more and joined in the fun, instead of holding back. Otherwise, this internship was probably my best; I was always neck-deep in work—either shooting pictures, blogging or editing videos or photos. I really immersed myself and got a great impression of what this type of work was like.
In any internship, putting yourself out there is crucial. Sometimes it’s scary, especially if you’re shy at first like me, but ultimately rewarding. With internships, it’s important to show your boss and co-workers that you’re not afraid to join the company culture (whether that culture be an office or summer camp full of children).
2. If you’re going to bail, bail early
At my internship with the nonprofit, I loved the cause and people we worked with. I was passionate about creating outreach opportunities and educating others about what we were doing.
I did not, however, like my boss. He gave me an authority position in the nonprofit as student director but rarely let me have any control or say in decisions. I felt like I was always on unstable ground with him.
When I finally got the nerve to quit, I was eyebrows deep in my job. I had contacts, an office and a marketing contract with a client. I would lose them all by quitting. I should have decided to leave when I first got the gut feeling of uncertainty.
Instead, I stayed because I couldn’t pull off the metaphorical band-aid. The relief I felt, however, when I finally quick was worth it.
Bailing early applies to any internship or job, honestly. If you feel like you shouldn’t be there, consider leaving rather than sticking it out. I assume anyone reading this is young, so get up and do it! Don’t waste time with an awful boss or work environment.
That being said—have a backup plan. I made my mind up to quit on a certain date and started looking for other jobs. I had a job interview the day after I quit and was offered a position a week later. Quitting can be exhilarating and very scary, but having a backup makes it less uncertain.
3. If you’re not passionate, don’t do it
The job I was offered lead into my next internship, which may have been the most valuable. I came in excited; the company seemed like it had such a laid back and fun atmosphere. I was pumped to finally work in an agency, not a small organization where I was literally the whole marketing department. Instead, I ended up doing almost nothing I was passionate about.
The agency wanted me write blogs and marketing materials about construction, a.k.a the driest material in the world. Plus they only gave me one blog post a day, which went by quickly in an eight-hour workday.
Don’t get it twisted—I love to write. But I can’t force myself to write about something I don’t have my heart and soul in. The feeling of unhappiness escalated. I knew I was frustrated with the lack of real work and my boss obviously sensed it too—calling me while I was on spring break in Vegas. Hearing him say, “You just don’t seem passionate about what we do here,” was a relief to me.
He was right. I wasn’t passionate about construction and never will be. It felt empowering to be able to realize that and walk away happy.
Overall, if you are stuck doing something that doesn’t feel right to you, and it isn’t giving you what you want, speak up. I wish I had said I wasn’t happy earlier. If you are only getting coffee or writing bland blog posts in your internship, speak up or look for other opportunities.
All of my internships, while not always an ideal situation, let me tailor my needs. I realized what makes me happy, what I am interested in doing. My internships have all led to me to where I am now—about to graduate and move to Sydney, Australia for a job.
Make sure your internship fit your needs, don’t just take whatever you can get and settle.
About the Author:
Meredith Whye is about to graduate with a degree in PR & Marketing. She’s worked with everyone from mom & pop stores to Fortune 500 companies. She is currently preparing to move to Sydney, Australia after graduation. She doesn’t use Twitter, but check out her site meredithwhye.wix.com/mawhye.