Evaluating Your Experience

Reflecting on your internship can be as valuable as doing it to begin with.

  • What are the specific tasks or projects you completed during your internship?
  • What skills did you gain or further develop?
  • Did you have an opportunity to observe or speak directly to professionals in positions that interest you? If not, identify people whom you might chat with.
  • To help you reflect before leaving, ask for a performance appraisal to learn how others view you and your work, and to learn areas to improve on.
  • Would you like to do this sort of job?
  • Do you think you would like to do the job you observed your supervisor or someone else doing?
  • Do you still think you want to be in this industry or field?
  • How did you like the work environment (i.e., the type of organization you worked for, the location and atmosphere of the work site)?
  • What did you learn about your personality as you dealt with coworkers and supervisors, or with clients and customers, if applicable?
  • What were your goals before the internship and did you accomplish them?
  • What new skills, equipment, or office technology did you master?
  • What was the most important thing you learned from this experience?
  • Is this a career option to consider or rule out?

Navigating a Disappointment

If, even after your careful investigation, interviewing, and consideration, you find that your internship isn’t as it was described, there might still be ways to improve the situation. Be aware that it might be a matter of timing; the supervisor could be planning to increase your responsibilities as you learn.

    • Meet with your supervisor.

Re-establish goals and be clear about what you both expect from the internship; try to come to a mutual agreement. Try to articulate what you have found that’s different from what you were expecting. Understand that some general office work is usually part of the job.

    • Gradually ask for more responsibility and actively look for things to do.

Try to clarify your tasks and obligations. Based on the skills you want to develop, you can suggest potential projects that will expose you to developing these skills as well.

  • If there are other interns in the organization, develop relationships with them to serve as a support system.

Whether you stay with an unsatisfactory internship will depend on how far along you are, whether you can address your concerns with your supervisor and make it more acceptable, or whether you want to cut your losses.

The decision to leave an internship must take several variables into account: Was there a contract? Is it worth continuing if you’re almost at the end, if only to keep it on your resume?

Word to the Wise:

No matter your feelings, always maintain a professional attitude and work with your supervisor. If you decide to leave your internship, do so politely and diplomatically and make sure to give the customary two-week notice.

After a Bad Experience

When you have a bad internship experience, it’s best to look at it as a lesson. Ask yourself what the mismatch between you and the organization or internship taught you. You can use that information to help identify what’s important to you. For example, if the lack of structure caused stress and anxiety during your internship, this is probably an opportunity to reflect on the type of structure that works best for you.

Internships, whether positive or negative, are instructive in helping you identify your needs in a work situation. If you leave feeling angry or negative, be sure to work through these feelings before moving on so they don’t undermine your next opportunity.

It’s Over. What’s Next?

Once your internship is over, it’s helpful to evaluate what you got out of it. Analyze your skill development. Think about what you liked and what you’d change; how the people and environment matched your values; how the internship helped to clarify your career goals.

What networking contacts did you make? What did you observe professionals in your field doing? Does it make sense to follow up with an informational interview? What new insights do you have about the field? What might you want to pursue in your next internship or in a full-time job?

  • Update your resume. Write down everything you did during your internship, all your duties and responsibilities. Make note of job functions or areas of expertise you were exposed to through your observations, even if you didn’t do those things yourself.
  • If a written description of your internship is not available, and you have difficulty describing what you did, speak with your supervisor for suggestions on how to describe the experience.
  • Go to Resume and Cover Letter Review Hours for help in updating your resume with this recent internship. If you don’t have one, check out the resume section for help.
  • As soon as possible after the internship, write to your primary internship supervisor as well as to anyone at the organization whom you worked closely with or who was particularly supportive. Thank them for helping to make your internship experience valuable.
  • In a separate follow-up note or phone call a week or two later, request a letter of recommendation or ask permission to use that individual as a reference.
  • Build on the experience. If you enjoyed the internship, look for ways to continue gaining experience in that area. Keep in touch with the people you worked with. Start searching and/or applying for another internship or part-time job in that field.
  • If you didn’t like the internship setting, or the job duties, or the field or industry as a whole, meet with a career counselor at the Center for Career Development to discuss alternative areas in that field or some completely different career options to try out in your next internship.