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How to Make the Most of Your Second-Choice Internship

There’s nothing worse than applying for your dream internship and getting a “no” after your interview… or worse, never hearing back at all. Just like when you were dying for your college acceptance letter, the search for the perfect internship can be exhausting. So what happens if the internship of your dreams doesn’t pan out?

Don’t let it weigh you down! A second- or even a third-choice internship can be just as rewarding and educational as your first choice could have been. It could even turn out better than you thought it would! Check out these stories from college students and experts about how to make the most out of your internship.

Don’t be bummed that it wasn’t your first choice

Don’t make the mistake of letting disappointment weigh you down. Instead of seeing your internship as a letdown, look at it as an accomplishment. Remember: if you’re there, then your bosses must think you’re qualified and capable of handling the job. That’s a reason to be proud!

“I think a lot of people think that if they don’t get their first-choice internship, that they’ll never get their dream job or never break into the career they want,” says Devon, a junior marketing student at The College of New Jersey. “These fears are totally irrational! Every internship should be taken as an experience, the good and the bad. Internships that aren’t your first choice can be seen as places to challenge yourself, personally develop and also learn what kind of work/industry you don’t want to work in after graduation.”

Instead of dwelling on disappointment, focus on the fact that you have an internship – something that other students covet.

“If you don’t get your first choice, the main thing is to never give up,” says B. Desmond Murray, associate director of field experience at Marist College Career Services. “There’s always going to be some other opportunity out there, and you have to go after that opportunity. I would tell students that once you get one ‘no,’ you have to go after the next employer.”

So instead of wallowing in self-pity, take your “no” and turn it into the grit and determination you need to get the work experience you want. You got your new internship for a reason, and you should seize this opportunity to learn and grow as a professional.

Network to get where you want to be

Wherever you intern, it’s always a good idea to reach out to your superiors and ask them to get coffee or lunch sometime; it shows them you’re interested and engaged in your work. But when your internship placement isn’t exactly what you were expecting, it’s even more important to put yourself out there and connect with the people you want to work with in the future. It may help you out the next time you’re looking for an internship!

“I was able to get in contact with people in [different] departments and do small tasks in those departments,” says Laura, a sophomore at the University of Wisconsin – Stout majoring in professional communication and emerging media. “For example, my internship was in advertising and I got to work with some marketing and human relations people to do other tasks aside from my normal advertising work.”

If your second-choice company doesn’t have any opportunities that look appealing to you in the future, always be on the lookout for events you can attend after work that can put you in touch with people more in your line of work.

“The key thing is trying to go to … business meetings within your field of study,” Murray says. “Try to go through career pages and resources and try to see if there are free events that exist within your field of study because when you leave college and you try to go to events and you become a young adult, you’re generally going to have to pay for events that you go to. So while you’re in college, go to free events and network.”

Learn some new skills

If you wind up with a second-choice internship, take that time to learn new skills that your new job is calling for. It may help out once you have your dream internship or job!

“There have been times when I wasn’t totally enjoying something and I just kept thinking of the skills that I learned and how to apply them to the things I really love doing,” says Sydney, a junior at Washington University in St. Louis who interned within the public relations and communications field and is majoring in film and media studies. “For instance, if I had to go through and organize photos in an archive or press from an event, I would think of how I was improving organizational skills and how I could apply that to other things in the future.”

By looking at your internship as an opportunity to branch out, you can embrace some new educational experiences and use them to your benefit like Dale Lavine, who is majoring in sports communication and broadcast journalism and has interned in the editorial field.

“Journalism is a constantly changing world, and up until that point I had gotten almost no training in digital journalism or SEO work—two things that this internship was offering,” says Dale, a Ferris State University junior. “How could I not take that? The work was tedious, yes. I dreaded having to upload pictures and search for keywords, sure.”

But focusing on everything he was learning helped Dale make the most of his internship.

“I’m glad I stuck with it because now I have a set of skills that a lot of other young writers like myself don’t have,” Dale says. “If anything, I’ve got a leg up on some of my competition.”

Your second-choice internship could surprise you and give you a new set of skills you could use again in the future!

Know that your internship will help lead you to where you want to be

Everyone has a lousy job at one point or another in his or her life. Whether yours was a fast-food-chain job in high school or your current second-choice internship, know that it will be over soon and you’re not stuck there forever. And when it’s over, it might be that extra special something that makes your resume stand out.

“I’m currently doing an internship that wasn’t my first choice, but I’m having a positive experience with it,” says Katherine, a junior majoring in English at the University of Rochester. “Even so, I know that I don’t want to go into this type of work after I graduate. I think it’s important to remember that internships are temporary, and it’s better to do one internship and find out that something isn’t for you than it is to begin a career in that field and have to be financially dependent on it.”

Take your internship for what it is and just remember that it’s valuable experience that you’ll get to put on your resume. Your time at your second-choice internship is time well spent. No matter where you are, you’re stepping into the professional world, and you’ll have an experience that a lot of students don’t have.

It’s not all doom and gloom!

You have to remember that you have an internship! An employer thought that you were awesome and wanted you out of all the other applicants. If that’s not enough, think of all of the perks an internship, first- or second-choice, presents.

“I made friends at my editorial internship that I never would’ve made unless I’d stuck it out,” says Nicole, a junior majoring in English at Hofstra University. “We still hang out and keep in touch. It may have not been my dream internship, but I was paid and I got awesome things from my company’s freebie table, and I have no complaints about that!”

No matter what work you’re doing, it’s always going to be something that you can talk to future interviewers about. Always keep track of what important tasks you’re accomplishing so you can talk about them in future interviews.

“As an intern, write down everything you do each day when you get home so at the end of the internship you have a clear list of specific tasks you completed to include on your resume or cover letter,” says Steph, a junior majoring in communications with a dual concentration in advertising and public relations.

Just because an internship was your second choice doesn’t mean it’s going to be awful. Remember when you dreaded taking a certain AP class in high school because you knew it was going to be super tough, and then it magically turned into your favorite and best class? That could be the case with your second-choice internship! Don’t write off your opportunity just because it wasn’t exactly what you wanted; it could turn into the experience of a lifetime.

“I accepted an internship on Capitol Hill that wasn’t my first choice, and I was a bit apprehensive about it, but it turns out it has been the most amazing learning experience,” says Ana Maria Baez, a junior at the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras majoring in political science. “I came to understand that my first choice maybe just wasn’t the right fit for me (at a congressional office), but the one I was picked to work at (a press office) has been amazing—the type of work that I’m doing now has proven to be more useful and better suited to what I want to work towards.”

The key is accepting your situation and always trying to be positive and open-minded. As Ana says, a second-choice internship could lead you down a better road than your first choice would have.

“I kept challenging myself every day to be better than the day before and I kept asking questions,” Ana says. “Before I knew it, coming to work was exciting and I lost that feeling of fear I had at the beginning. I guess what I’m really trying to say is learn to embrace what life puts in front of you, even if it’s a challenge—it’s the only way to learn and grow.”

If your dream internship doesn’t become a reality this summer, don’t fret! Collegiettes (and Dale) have been through the same situation and know that this could be an amazing learning experience for you. Stay positive and keep on reaching for your dream career; this internship is just another step in the right direction!

Nicole Knoebel was the President and Editor-in-Chief of Her Campus Marist and is a former National Contributing Writer for Her Campus. She attended Marist College and majored in English (Writing) and minored in Journalism. Nicole has been an editorial intern at Marie Claire, Us Weekly, Seventeen and ELLE and spent a semester living in New York City to test out the Carrie Bradshaw life (minus the Manolos). You can follow her on Twitter at @nicoleknoebel!