3 Ways to Reverse Your Summer Internship Disaster

summer internship

I was an intern. I’ve worked with interns. I’ve trained interns. I’ve had career-changing summer internships, awful summer internships, and a few that made me feel “meh.”

If your summer internship experience isn’t going well, here are three tips to help you succeed. I learned these the hard way through trial and (and a lot of) error.

1. Make your own opportunities.

Unfortunately, completing your assignments isn’t enough. Make no mistake, competency is key. But, no glowing recommendation ever stated a candidate was “competent,” and stopped there.

  • Do you ask enough questions during meetings and conversations?
  • Do you attend weekly check-ins with your manager?
  • Are you doing your part to receive good feedback?

Many interns, especially mid-way through their internships, feel they aren’t making progress or receiving clear communication from their supervisor. There are a few quick fixes for this:

Email your manager and schedule a meeting. A meeting is where you can ask point-blank how you can be more valuable to the team.

Walk up to your manager’s desk and ask if they have a minute (after you check their Google or Outlook calendar to confirm they do). This is especially helpful if you don’t receive a response to your email meeting request. Reference the email you sent, and reiterate your need to ask them a few key questions one-on-one.

Voice your questions through a quick email if you have trouble scheduling a meeting. This is a great option if your office is more casual. Managers love passionate, inquisitive interns. Asking questions and showing you care about reaching their goals is a great way to take on more responsibility and go above and beyond for your employer.

2. Being told what you’re doing wrong is awesome.

This is the most important opportunity you have to shine at your internship.

Internships are learning experiences. Your team expects you to make mistakes, spend time researching, require training, and need feedback. But, if you make mistakes without learning from them and hear feedback without making it your priority the following week–your manager will notice.

The only time I’ve ever seen an intern let go from a position, that intern did not adapt to the role or incorporate feedback. Feedback was given week after week, but no follow-up questions were asked, such as, “I heard what you said last week about X, have you noticed any improvement in my assignments?” No tweaks to projects were made. The internship was paid, and managers realized they had a doer, not a learner on their hands. You really, really need to be both.

Tips for evolving during your internship:

  • Take notes. You will not remember everything your manager tells you. Write down feedback on your notepad or computer–whether it’s a technical or abstract critique. This will prevent you from asking your manager to repeat themselves, and give you the invaluable chance to base your performance on their key points and show that you were listening.
  • Ask clarifying questions. If you feel unclear about the feedback, try summarizing it back to your manager. If you’re incorrect about what you heard, they’ll be happy to clarify to make sure you’re both on the same page.
  • Show enthusiasm. There is nothing more painful as an internship manager than giving an intern feedback, only to watch them take absolutely no notes and say nothing back. No questions, no excitement to fix the problem, no “thank you for letting me know so I can move forward”–just an awkward end of meeting. Passion won’t land you a job, but it’s half the battle. Be a participator in your own feedback sessions.

3. Be vocal about your pace.

If you’re unchallenged at your internship, say something. If you’re overwhelmed, say something.

There are a few exceptions to this. If you were hired to complete straightforward accounting tasks and filing, you will still need to complete the job duties that you agreed to upon hiring. But, there may be room for you to do even more–like take on new projects, sit in on integral meetings, and even work within other departments. You never know until you ask. A mentor and manager of mine once said “The squeaky wheel gets the oil.” She was basically telling me: Speak up.

If the pace is too fast for you, and you’re not sure how to complete tasks quickly and accurately, don’t be too nervous to ask for help. That’s why you’re interning–to learn. Any boss would rather have a task take twice as long and be done right.

Remember, an intern is a valued asset to a company. You’re there to serve your employer, but an internship is a two-way street. You deserve to learn, grow, and develop high-level communication with your employer. You’d be surprised how many interns–both paid and unpaid–couldn’t care less about the opportunity to learn new skills. When you show enthusiasm, your attitude alone will help turn your passable internship into a memorable one.


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