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Career Development

3 Ways Your Internship Can Actually Hurt Your Career

General Assembly
October 14, 2014
3 Ways Your Internship Can Actually Hurt Your Career

I’m sure you’ve heard many times that without an internship, you’re not going to find a job in your desired field. While there is some truth to this (without experience it’s much harder to find a full-time job), there may also be ways that your internship is actually preventing you from getting the necessary experience.

Before you commit to a business and become their summer or school year intern (or if you already are), watch out for these signs that the position may actually hurt your career.

You don’t feel challenged

Part of your job as an intern is to do the menial, day-to-day tasks that simply don’t make sense for an employee with a higher salary to do. While this part of the job my be unavoidable, it shouldn’t be the only part of your experience. You should be learning new things and picking up tangible skills that you can apply to your career. Ideally, the split between menial tasks and actual learning is a fair one, but many times it skews too heavily towards the menial. If you’re spending all your time doing simple tasks that don’t help you grow, you need to step up and ask for more responsibility. Without it, you’re wasting your time and hurting yourself in the long run.

The internship isn’t relevant

This can be tricky, because people often don’t know the exact direction they’d like to take at the internship stage, and it’s not uncommon to have some internships that don’t seem to match up with jobs you apply to later on. If you know what you want to do, make sure you take an internship in the industry you want to be in, not just any internship so you can say you had one. If you aren’t sure, it’s best to try to take a more general internship that will let you do a lot and learn as much as possible. Many times this experience helps you focus in on an industry or specific part of it to go into. If you can’t determine how the internship can help you get a career you want later, or decide what career you might want, it’s not even worth applying.

You’re not learning the latest

If you’re not experienced it’s hard to know if what you’re learning is pertinent and how it can help you down the line. Do your research ahead of time, read up on industry blogs, and talk to people that you respect about the work you will do or are doing for your internship. You should be learning topics and methods that are up-to-date and applicable to any company you may work for in the future. If you’re learning tactics that are only used by this company, or they are years behind what is currently accepted as best practice, you may want to think about teaching yourself the most up to date ways in your free time.

There are many ways your internship can help you grow into a qualified professional, but just as many ways that it can hurt you or hinder your development. While it’s important to work your hardest and do everything you can to make yourself valuable to the company during your time there, it’s also important that you ensure the internship delivers long term value.

If you happen to find yourself in a situation where any of the above is true, or other negatives are outweighing the positives, weigh your options and determine a plan of attack. Sometimes talking to a superior candidly about wanting to learn more and take on responsibility is enough to help you get pushed in the right direction. Other times you may have to take things into your own hands and ride out a less than stellar internship and teach yourself the basics on your own. Either way, it’s important to be proactive and make sure you get the most out of your internship possible as it’s the first step to finding your own career path and becoming an in-demand professional.

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Sean Little is the VP of Marketing for FirstJob.com. FirstJob matches current students and recent college graduates with internships and quality career opportunities. Get started with FirstJob by registering or searching today.

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