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No internship is a bad internship.
“That’s what my first boss said to me when I started as an experiential education advisor,” said Amy Bravo, senior director of international and experiential education at New York Institute of Technology. “She was right!”
That’s because internships are a test run for the future. And even if a college student or recent college grad completes an internship that makes them realize they no longer want to pursue a certain career path, or the internship isn’t what they hoped it would be, there is still value in completing that internship.
“There are many industries and positions you could pursue in your field of study,” says Bravo. “One industry or position might not be the best fit for your values, interests or skills, but another will be.”
As many interns have learned, internships don’t always confirm that one’s choice of career paths was the right one, says Mark Babbitt, CEO and Founder of YouTern, a web site and community that connects college students and recent college grads to high-impact internships and mentors. “At first, this can lead to frustration, anxiety – even shock,” says Babbitt. “The interns might ask themselves ‘how could I be so wrong?’”
But here’s the reality: There is no better time to be wrong than right now, before your career is well established. “For generations, people have worked at jobs they hated and careers they grew to dread,” says Babbitt. “They felt trapped or obligated. Many were afraid to admit they chose wrong. They feared the idea of starting over even more. So for decades, they worked in a constant state of disengagement.”
“So embrace this time in your life,” says Babbitt. “Instead of being afraid to admit what is clearly a mistake, own it.”
After all, this is the perfect time for a do-over – and perhaps the best opportunity you’ll ever have to become completely focused on exactly what you want. Not what your parents want. Not what you were “supposed” to be. But that person who can really make a difference while doing what they love, says Babbitt.
But don’t quit. In most cases, of course, you’ll want to finish the internship. Even when conflicted, it is important to meet your commitments. Keeping your word is a habit that will serve you well in your career. People will feel comfortable vouching for you. Aside from that, however, there are benefits to finishing what you started.
First, you’ll build the soft skills you can leverage in any career path. Second, you’ll continue to build your personal network. Even better, you can find a mentor. Rather than judge you for a change of heart, a mentor can guide you through this early-career transition.
Alexa Merschel, US Campus Talent Acquisition Leader for Pricewaterhouse Coopers, is on college campuses every day recruiting students for PwC’s internship program. She hears from students who both loved their internship experience, and those who realized the professional services aren’t necessarily for them. She recommends focusing on these areas when completing an internship:
- Focus on building your network – you never know where it will lead.
- Investigate all opportunities – it is amazing the opportunities that exist in a firm/company outside of the one you may be currently interning within.
- Observe the culture – Understand the culture of the organization you are interested in working for, and base that off of the culture you experienced while interning.
All internships do provide value, even if you don’t realize it now. Follow these tips from Bravo to continue to gain from your internship.
- Write down the pros and cons: What worked and what didn’t? What about it didn’t satisfy your interests in this field? What did you like or learn? Which of your career values did it match (autonomy, location, hours of work)? “Once you shorten the list to essentials you need in a job, start looking for opportunities that match those,” says Bravo.
- Build your network: You spent a few months at your internship and likely met people of influence and interest. Build on that network. Ask a few professionals with positions that you were interested in for an informational interview. Learn about their career path and the twists and turns they likely took. Finding the right fit usually takes time.
- Be open to a variety of opportunities: Focus on what you like doing and what you do well. You are more than your major and you can transfer your knowledge and skills to hundreds of positions. You’ll need to confidently convey your value to the next employer.
Even if you’ve already graduated, utilize the resources of your college career services department.
And then, embrace your next challenge and go for it.
“When an internship shows you that a different career path is right for you, don’t think of it as abandoning ship,” says Babbitt. “Think of it as ‘I’m finally steering my ship in the right direction. My direction!”
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