How to Recover from a Bad Internship Experience

You Did Nothing During Your Internship

There are plenty of articles on how to make the most of your internship experience. But what if your internship has come and gone, and well, it was an awful venture? Fret not—a bad internship doesn’t mean it’s the end of your career as you know it. There are a lot of things you can take away from a negative work experience.

Scenario 1: It’s Not You—It’s Them Bad Internship Scenario 1: It's not you—it's them. Maybe you didn’t like the people you worked with. They were unsupportive and über critical. This is not the case at all organizations, and you should evaluate whether you actually liked what you were doing for the company. If you liked the work and industry, then at least you can walk away having gained some serious career skills for your résumé and the drive to find something better in the future.

Scenario 2: It’s Not Them—It’s You Bad Internship Scenario 2: It's not them—it's you. Perhaps you weren’t exactly ready for the responsibilities of an intern and majorly botched the opportunity, showing up late and screwing up on projects. Ask yourself why this happened. Were you disinterested in the position and work? Does the industry not excite you? Were you just overly irresponsible? While you can most definitely still put the experience down on your résumé, you may not want to include this company as a reference if your work was lackluster. However, you want to be honest about the opportunity when other employers ask you about it in future interviews. Maybe you learned that you need to take more initiative and accountability for your actions. Take what you didn’t do and turn it into a valuable learning opportunity.

Scenario 3: You Discovered You Hate Your Field Bad Internship Scenario 3: You discovered you hate your field. Believe it or not, this is actually great if you figured this out during the internship phase, as you still have time to figure out what you’d like to do. It’s better to figure this out before you secure a permanent job position! Make a list of which aspects you hated about the industry/internship and which aspects you liked. You can talk to a career counselor or professor about why the internship didn’t work for you and see advice they can offer. They can try to help you find something better or maybe even explore other career options.

Scenario 4: You Did Nothing During the Duration of the Internship Bad Internship Scenario 4: You did nothing during the duration of the internship. This can sometimes happen when companies overbook interns. It can be a double bummer if you didn’t get paid and had to be there from 9 to 5 every day. What you can take away from an experience like this is observation skills (what did people do in the office daily?) and, if anything, something to put on a résumé (even if you’re lacking in the description and skills area). If this ever happens again in the future, you should ask your supervisor if there’s anything you can do to help out, whether it’s filing or maybe even running mundane errands. There should always be something you could be doing.

Scenario 5: You Did Too Much/You’re Overstressed Bad Internship Scenario 5: You did too much/you're overstressed. If you didn’t enjoy being pushed to the max in terms of workload, then you should evaluate whether the experience was beneficial in any other way. Were you doing what you normally like to do? Did you hate your job by the end of it? If you weren’t paid for the job, would it have been a better experience if you had been compensated? These are all important qualities to consider since your internship experience is often a litmus test for work in your field. You also should remember that some companies take advantage of interns. Evaluate whether yours was such a situation. If you were working more than the compensated, full-time employees, then you may have been exploited as a college student. The good news is that you received valuable experience to put on a résumé, plus the hindsight to be wary of being used in the future.

The Bottom Line
The best thing about having a bad internship is that it provides you with better knowledge of how to avoid a similar experience in the future. Plus, it will better help you in figuring out what you like and don’t like about your field of interest. While many worry about having a nightmare internship, sometimes these crappy experiences can teach you more about yourself than the good ones.