You have probably seen the “disposable intern” trope countless times in movies like Set It Up and The Devil Wears Prada. An inexperienced, driven young person is taken on by a company that keeps them at the office until three in the morning, sends them to pick up complicated coffee orders, and pays them close to (or actually) nothing. While it might be entertaining to watch, this dynamic is not so fun when you are the intern.
After a bad internship experience, it’s natural to fantasize about the mundane paperwork and grueling early mornings having been replaced with a summer of beach days and afternoon mimosas. Especially, Aronson says, in a time where we all have access to social media, breeding comparison of daily experiences.
So how do you recover following a less-than-ideal internship experience? Women’s career consultant and life coach Amanda Aronson has the answers.
Reframe the experience.
Aronson recommends reframing the guilt, regret, and annoyance that can come after a particularly FOMO-inducing Instagram scroll. “Nothing is wasted time,” Aronson tells Her Campus. “Every experience that you have now can be picked apart, and you can pull wisdom from it not just now, but throughout many decades of your life.”
Reflecting upon and analyzing your career experiences, especially the negative ones, can prove particularly beneficial in the long term. Aronson recommends starting with some self-reflection. One question that she says can be particularly helpful in thinking about your experience retroactively is, “What did I expect it to be?”
The answers to this question might help you to identify the true problems within the internship. Do you wish you had been paid more? What did you think about the workload? Were you expected to constantly complete assignments outside of hours at the office? Maybe your boss’ communication style didn’t feel quite right.
This process can also help you to avoid blaming yourself for the negative experience in its entirety. “Sometimes it’s just that the people who are hosting the internships are not necessarily invested in having interns or prepared to have them,” Aronson says.
Make use of the office dynamics you observed.
Next, Aronson recommends thinking about “the power of observation” to reflect on your internship. For example, in a position where you shredded old files and sorted email inboxes, it might be easy to feel like you didn’t absorb anything new.
Aronson suggests tapping into the management styles and interpersonal dynamics you noticed while in this position. How did you feel about your manager’s style in communicating with you and with other coworkers? What common factors did you notice in the tense relationships between coworkers? What about the more positive interactions and dynamics?
These observations might be helpful when searching for other internship or job opportunities in the future, Aronson says. Some job posting sites like LinkedIn make the number of employees at a given company or organization visible to applicants. Maybe, after this not-so-ideal internship, you now know that a smaller environment works best for you.
You might even be able to apply what you’ve noticed after already having applied for a job. At the end of an interview, when your interviewer will likely ask if you have any questions about the position, toss in an inquiry about the vibe of the workplace. How would you describe the office dynamic at (insert workplace here)? Would you say there’s room to be collaborative? Is the schedule flexible? Each of these questions can help you determine whether the position is right for you individually, based upon past experiences.
Allow the experience to influence you positively.
The last element that Aronson recommends is allowing your subpar internship to shape your own approach in the future. “The experience can be helpful when you’re forming your own leadership style,” she says. “You can take someone else’s negative influence to make sure that your own is more positive.”
For example, if you felt that your employer failed to provide adequate support during your internship, work to do more for your own employees in the future. “Don’t feel like you have to make the same mistakes that your incapable leaders have made in the past,” Aronson said. “Instead, use this experience falling flat to ensure that other young women don’t feel the same way as you do in the future.”
In the end, rethinking your disappointing internship experience can turn it into something helpful for you, your future self, and maybe even future interns. That’s a silver lining if I’ve ever heard of one!