5 Things To Do If You Aren’t Learning Anything At Your Internship

We often have high hopes for our internships. We want to be challenged, mentored, and ultimately come out of them with a far deeper understanding of our future career. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. We’ve all heard of the intern who does nothing but fetch coffee and organize papers. But if this ends up being you, what are you supposed to do?

Luckily, your internship isn't a lost cause just because you don’t feel like you’re being challenged. Here are five things you should do if you don’t feel like you’re learning anything at your internship.

1. Learn from others

One of the best resources that you have is the people who have already made it to wherever you want to be. You don’t only have the opportunity to learn ‘hard skills’ from them. Instead, you can also ask questions and learn by example. “If you work with others, ask why they chose this organization to work at, the things most exciting and surprising things they've learned during their time there,” Jasmine Cui, a junior at SUNY Geneseo, suggests.

There aren’t that many opportunities to meet and learn from people in the field you want to go into, and your internship is a great time to do that!

2. Ask if there’s anything else you can do

Depending on the workplace environment, your boss may be open to you trying out more challenging tasks. Lili Pfeifer is a sophomore who works as an undergraduate research assistant at the University of Michigan School of Public Health. She suggests that if you don’t feel like you’re learning anything, you should “ask your supervisor if there’s an opportunity to expand your skills.” Set aside a time to meet with him or her and explain how eager you are to learn more. You could either propose a more challenging project or ask if he or she has anything in mind for you already!

Make sure that when you meet with your supervisor, you emphasize how eager you are to be challenged and learn, instead of acting like you’re bored or feel like you’re too good for the position.

3. Try to get involved with the specific areas of the field that interest you

There may not be any room for growth in your specific role, but that shouldn’t stop you from learning about the areas that you’d like to be a part of someday.

Say you’re interning at a magazine. Even if your main job is assisting the fashion editor, if your dream is to work for the business aspect of publishing, then ask one of the people in the business department if you can get involved on a project with them. This would probably add additional unpaid hours to your internship, but it would give you an opportunity for growth that you wouldn’t have if you weren’t involved in the internship.

Just make sure you consult your supervisor before taking on any additional roles!

4. Build connections

The vast majority of jobs come from who you know, not what you know. So even if you don’t get a lot of challenging tasks at your internship, the connections you build are ultimately way more important. Make great impressions on everyone, because you never know who could be the one to recommend your next boss to hire you.

If you want to build your connections even more deeply, consider asking your supervisor or coworker(s) to coffee. That’s a great way to get a chance to learn more about what they do, and ensure that if you ever need a rec letter or another form of recommendation, they will know you well enough to give a good one.

Maria Harshe, an attorney who advises small businesses, recommends that you “think of an internship as an extended multi-layered interview. Yes, the enterprise offering the internship is likely evaluating you to see if you are a good fit for future employment. But what do you think about that particular business or enterprise? Do you like the work it does and how it does it? Is the firm culture one in which you would like to spend the majority of your waking hours? Is the work product something that energizes you? Engage. Ask questions. Network. You’ll have no other opportunity quite like this to dig deep into a particular establishment.”

Make sure to follow up on the connections that you build as well! This can be done by sending follow-up emails or adding them on LinkedIn. You never know when you’ll need that connection to move up in your field.

Related: 7 Ways To Make Networking Less Intimidating

5. Embrace the bitch work

Sometimes, in order to move up in your field, you’re going to have jobs that don’t challenge you. You’ll have to grab coffee, you’ll have to do paperwork—it’s a rite of passage. You don’t want to be that one intern who shows up at the office and tries to own the place. Instead, know your place and be grateful that you even have an internship. You’re not the boss here; you’re the one who’s here to observe everyone around you. It’s okay to embrace your role as the lowest on the totem pole.

Making it in the workplace isn’t easy, and you’re not always going to enjoy your jobs and internships. You can’t expect to magically make it big. Instead, you have to embrace all of the bitch work that it takes to work your way up in your field. Everyone has to do it! Do your time, and someday you’ll be glad that you did.

As Harshe shares, “In any business there is a wide range of tasks that need to be done, from the higher level and prestigious to the more mundane and menial.  Interns should absolutely be ready to step into and embrace the challenging high profile work opportunities that are offered to them.  But they should also demonstrate a willingness to perform grunt work or other lowly tasks – whatever it takes to move the business forward.  An intern who is a good team player will be looked upon favorably by co-workers and superiors alike.”

Internships aren’t always fun, but they can be and ultimately, they’re such important resume-builders and critical for your future success. You will never regret putting your all into something, even if you don’t feel like you’re learning anything concrete.