Lessons From Bad Internship Experiences

Every once in a while I hear a horror story about a bad internship. My first response is always, I wish I would have known earlier so I could have helped. But, regardless if the internship was positive or not there are always lessons to take away from that experience.

Supervisor preferences

Think about how you were managed at the internship. What did you like? What didn’t you like? If you could describe your ideal supervisor, how would he/she work and manage? Supervisors can make or break an internship experience. Remember when you interview for any job, even an internship, that you take time to ask them questions also.

Where your interests really lie

Maybe you just didn’t like the work. Consider what parts of the job duties you enjoyed the most and what you enjoyed the least. For the duties you enjoyed the least, ask youself, “Why?”  What about those duties made them less appealing to you as a worker? The more you know about your interests at work, the more focused your job search will be, and more likely you’ll find a job that you enjoy.

Co-workers and environment preferences

What was the company culture like at the internship site? How were the co-workers and their relationships with you? These are good qualities to assess for internships and potential new jobs. You can tell a lot about the company by observing interactions, nonverbals, and verbal remarks during an internship.

Ask yourself if it’s the type of place where you would like to become involved in the future or not.

Negotiation tactics

All good intern supervisors have the understanding that interns are there to learn and should have frequent meetings with his/her intern(s) to discuss progress, goals, and needs. By having successful discussions with your supervisor you can practice how to positively negotiate.

Even if you didn’t have a great internship experience, you’ve still walked away with a learning experience. That’s what internships are all about, learning. Don’t forget to reflect, write logs and journals, and talk to counselors or advisors about your experience. By reporting a poor experience to a university representative you’ll have a better chance of improving it, and also be able to gain an objective perspective on the internship experience.


Karen is a Career Counselor and Internship Coordinator at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne (IPFW). At IPFW she assists students in finding internships, coordinates and assists with campus-wide events, teaches a Career Planning course, and meets with students individually to assist them with all aspects of career development. She has a Bachelor of Science in Education with a major in Recreation and Tourism and a Master of Arts in Mental Health Counseling from Bowling Green State University (GO Falcons!). Her 10+ years professional-experience ranges from working at camps, schools, a church, college campuses, and other non-profits. Although these may seem unrelated she attests that she still uses both her degrees and life experiences from all jobs in her current career. When she isn’t working or volunteering at one of four local non-profits, she enjoys singing in two choruses and spending time with her family and black lab, Othello. You can connect with Karen through Twitter, LinkedIn, or IPFW’s Blog.

Related posts:

  1. Meaningful Experiences
  2. 5 Lessons to Learn from Olympians
  3. Career Lessons from College Homecoming

6 Responses to “Lessons From Bad Internship Experiences”

  1. avatar Kim says:

    I must admit that I love this post. I just recently ended an internship where I had a bad experience, and love this post because it still allows you to focus on the positive from a bad experience. I think that anyone interning should read this! Great information.

  2. Kim,
    Thanks for the positive feedback. Bad internship experiences happen everywhere and I was even a part of one for my undergraduate internship. Even though there were some poor aspects, I think I learned more from that experience than many of my college courses.

  3. avatar campusdiva says:

    All great points! A “bad” internship experience is something I call, “a great practice session on managing your boss.” That is something we all do throughout our careers for all bosses, bad and great! I recommend to students that they can really test their ninja communication skills and see how far they can push the experience into the positive. Ask for meetings with your boss, then ask for feedback and do something with the feedback you are given. On the next meeting show what you did with the feedback and where it took you. Think critical of the processes you see and offer to jump in and help improve. If you get nothing else, you get to practice having those types of conversations and learn to navigate the typical responses.
    Very timely Topic!

  4. Great points brought out in this posting. My favorite is the fact that an internship is meant to be a learning experience, for the student and the company. Every one will not be a perfect fit. Both sides should do as much preparation work ahead of time and try to make it a good experience. If it works, it may result in a job offer, if not, hopefully both sides learned something.

    Keep on writing.

  5. avatar Cathy says:

    Great post–I feel too often interns throw in the towel on a bad internship and just stop trying or even showing up. that ensures that the experience is a complete wash in all regards: they cheat themselves out of a perfect opportunity to learn about a real life workplace and managing difficult bosses, coworkers, or management styles, and they forfeit any residual benefits from the job such as a good recommendation, or business contacts.

    There is ALWAYS something to be gained from a job. You never know when a former coworker ends up at your dream company and you need them to drop your name, or if the SEO skills you learned at that boring data entry position are a perfect bullet point on a resume for a writing or advertising gig.

    Therefore, you should ALWAYS conduct yourself as you would at your fantasy position: professional, capable, and however else you would like people to speak of you as after you leave.

    You can’t control what other people do in a bad internship, but if you really do try to make something good out of it, not only might you have a much better experience, but you’ll absolutely have a kick ass answer to the popular interview question “how did you handle a difficult situation at work?”

    Stay strong, be positive, and if all else fails… better internship opportunities are always just around the corner!

  6. avatar ye says:

    Thank you for your insight, I’m currently going through a bad internship experience and I’ve decided that this company is not my ideal work environment. That in itself is a great learning experience.

Leave a Reply

You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

  • Dan Schawbel

    Dan Schawbel, the founder of the Student Branding Blog, is a world renowned personal branding expert, the international bestselling author of Me 2.0, as well as the publisher of the Personal Branding Blog.

  • Connect With Dan

  • Chelsea Rice

    Chelsea Rice is the editor-in-chief of the Student Branding Blog. She began her work for just before graduating from Boston University, where she studied journalism and minored in international relations.

  • Connect With Chelsea

  • Recognition

    • Recommended resource - The Washington Post
    • "A terrific way for students to learn about branding" - Lindsey Pollak
    • "Worth checking out" - Psychology Today
    • HR World's top 100 management blogs