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Why It’s Okay to Quit An Internship

This spring, I had an internship lined up for June, following my junior year. I was excited to work in a distribution center for a mega-large home improvement store, thinking the experience would broaden my business management education. I wanted to take the 10-week fixed program head-on, knowing I was the only female among 12 interns.  As some of you may remember, I wrote an article with 10 Tips For A Successful Job or Internship last year. I felt prepared to tackle my internship head-on, and was ready to work hard and learn a lot.

When I arrived at my internship at 6:30 a on the first day, I was informed the position wasn’t going to be as advertised. The office setting that had been hinted at during interviews was non-existent, and the role that I had mentally prepared for was going to look much different. Instead of following the 10-week agenda (which was supposed to be moving through different departments in various management roles), my boss told me that I would be in the distribution warehouse overseeing the “voice pick aisles". He explained that two supervisors had left unexpectedly before I arrived, thus I had to pinch-hit for their positions. While this might sound like a promotion--it wasn’t.

I was on the floor, dodging forklifts and blowing dirt out of my nose during breaks. In addition, I felt uncomfortable with the fact that the hourly employees had to walk through cattle grates to use the bathroom, and that I had to write up employees if I caught them sitting while they worked. I thought I was there to learn how to be a professional, not to be an overpaid babysitter of adults, half of whom didn’t want to be there. By day number 3, after a mere 24 hours on the clock, I knew that I couldn’t do this job for 10 weeks. I was an emotional wreck, yet I had never quit anything in my life. This left me in an uncomfortable position. My parents had taught me that commitments were to be honored, and if I entered into an agreement, I had to honor it to the best of my ability. Thus, quitting seemed like a breach in my obligation.

I was also worried about my future. My plan for the summer centered around this internship. It was a way for me to gain experience, build my resume, and hopefully assist in finding a job my senior year of college. If I quit, there was a real possibility I’d spend the summer unemployed, living in my parents' basement. That was a hit to both my resume and my self-esteem. On the other hand, I knew that sticking it out wasn’t an option either, unless I was willing to compromise my mental health. I spoke to my boss, explained my concerns, and asked if any changes could be made, but he told me he didn’t have any flexibility. So, I took a leap and learned a very important lesson. It’s okay to quit a job that isn’t a good fit for you.

Some clichés are true: when one door closes, another door opens. I immediately looked for other opportunities. First, I found a local author in need of a blog and spent a week creating a website for her. During this, I also emailed my network of acquaintances and mentioned that my internship didn’t pan out, so I was looking for an opportunity.  Since I had kept in touch with old bosses, I felt comfortable reaching out and asking if anyone knew of any available positions for the summer. I had formed a positive relationship with my boss at my previous summer internship, and had continued to network with him during the school year. Because of this continued relationship, he responded within a few days, offering me a full-time internship for the remainder of the summer. I feel blessed that he came in clutch when I needed him, and I’m glad I worked hard at that internship the summer before. I also learned a valuable lesson: it’s equally important to use summer internships to learn what you don’t want to do as it is to gain experience.

There are plenty of jobs out there, and if you were qualified enough to get one, you’re qualified enough to get others. If a job isn’t the right fit for you, and you find yourself crying in your car after every shift, then quit. Be honest and polite with your boss about why you’re quitting, but quit. Hopefully, the employer will understand, and the experience that led you to realize the job wasn’t right for you will be more valuable than staying in a job you hate.

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