How to Learn from Your Best and Worst Internships

by Kristina Rudic | March 17, 2017

  • My Vault

The stress of finding an internship often overshadows the reality of the internship experience, whether good or bad. While many internships are intended to teach you about the field, there are oftentimes setbacks many do not discuss, ranging from financial setbacks to experiences that do not lend a true light into the job. We’ve rounded up some of the best and worst internship stories from our office, and how each of us learned from the experience.

WORST

A Banking Nightmare

The worst internship I ever had was with a Midwestern commercial bank. It was my first internship ever, and my first real corporate job. I say this internship at this regional bank was my worst because I didn't learn all that much. I learned nothing about banking or about finance. My duties were largely administrative-level. I searched for certain variations of numbers on spreadsheets of mortgages that were being sold to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and then I would highlight them. So, I guess I learned to become a pretty good highlighter. I also learned a little about the banking culture and corporate environment. I learned what to wear and what not to wear in a formal business setting. I also learned the importance of finding others senior to you to help you navigate the workplace—I met a few great older employees who ended up becoming friends and good contacts. Perhaps most important, the internship gave me some relevant experience to get my next internship the following summer, which I then used to get a full-time banking job after I graduated college.

Out of Pocket or Out of A Career?

One of the negatives of internships is the financial burden. Most internships are not paid, yet they are usually required with any reputable university degree; and definitely make you more marketable on your resume. But the cost of doing one can most times be the determining factor. When I did my internship; I was not paid. So, I would drive an hour to my internship, work for 7 hours, then drive an hour home. The fuel, lunches and other costs were more than I could afford, so I had to then work a part-time job in the evenings and weekends. I would wake up at 7am, leave my house by 8am to be at the internship at 9am; then leave the internship at 4pm, and drive to my job; where I would be until 11pm, usually skipping dinner or eating fast food while driving. While the internship was amazing; I went more into debt that summer than I had (tuition aside) during my whole undergraduate career. When classes resumed in the fall; it was the same boat. Mixing classes, homework, internships, and a part time job left no days to be off and relax. In my final term of undergraduate, I had 2 days off from everything—my birthday, and the day I graduated. This included exam weeks. For many, it's a cost too high to bear.

Assisting Everyone But Me

I interned in a prestigious magazine one summer where I was an assistant to the editor-in-chief and a copy editor at the same time. It sounded like the ideal way to get my foot in the door, but upon spending a summer there, I realized I learned almost nothing besides how to cancel appointments at the drop of a hat. No one in the office was friendly or inviting, no one wanted to show me how to do things I didn’t understand, and I barely got to do any editing. The pretentious air in the office was stifling and although I didn’t love the experience, I learned that maybe the thing that seems ideal for us is actually not what we want to do at all. I wouldn’t trade that internship for anything in the world because it showed me what I did not want to do.

In the Sun Instead of Internships

Getting the summer internship was my good fortune but then the process was daunting.  I didn’t know what I was doing and I didn’t understand any of the lingo even though I’d read some books and gone to a networking session on tips and tricks for a successful internship.  It was brutal and like nothing I have ever experienced. I even had to give a presentation where I blanked in front of the audience. I learned that you must figure out how to get work experience during college. I made the mistake of rowing every summer and not working, which set me back.  

BEST

Trending Now: Great Internship

The summer between my junior and senior years of college, I participated in the HBO Internship Program, which was fantastic. I really enjoyed the collaborative, creative culture at HBO and learned a lot about the TV and film industry. All the interns got to partake in career development workshops, attend Speaker Series by HBO executives, and participate in a 10-week marketing project. This project was probably my favorite part of the internship, as I was given the opportunity to lead a team of interns in developing a marketing strategy for HBO NOW, which was really exciting and rewarding. For anyone looking for a summer internship, my advice would be to go out on a limb and try something that genuinely interests you, rather than something that feels like a safe bet. This is the one time you can try out a job without making any commitment, so take advantage of that.

Learning From Unlikely "Internships"

The only thing I did that was billed as an internship turned out not to be an internship at all—or at least not in the American sense—when I spent a summer at the International Committee of the Red Cross during law school.

A Little Insight For the Future

One of my best internship experiences was when I was a senior in university. I started in the summer and interned for 6 months in the marketing and development departments. It was such a rewarding experience—I learned more from this experience than I had in the many classes I took. Personally, I made amazing friendships with my coworkers, who 4 years later are still close friends. I liked the museum so much, that after the 6 months I began another internship in a different department. It was one of the best decisions I made in my educational career, and it really showed me that I was in the right field. We think, taking classes and things, that "this is what I want to do". But until we try it, we never truly know. And that's the best thing about an internship—it's temporary, and allows us to experience a career without actually starting one.

Being In the Action

I was a summer intern on Wall Street—specifically the sales and trading of a large primary dealer in NYC. I completed my first three weeks on a corporate bond desk and my mentor was very nice and understanding, helpful and gave me several assignments that I had to research and figure out but was able to master those tasks. It also happened to be during the time frame when the Brexit vote came out and the markets went into turmoil. It was a great opportunity to sit on the floor and watch the organized chaos unfold. The is no substitute for real life experiences, no matter how many times you might be able to describe the situation it never is quite the same as being present.

Loving and Leaving

My first summer internship was with a Wall Street brokerage firm. As an intern, I worked primarily on lead generation, with the occasional Starbucks run. My experience helped me come to the realization that sales and trading was something that was extremely appealing and interesting to me at the time. The fact that I was able to fully immerse myself in the daily responsibilities of a broker was my favorite part. During my internship, I was able to shadow other brokers and assisted them with a variety of projects. I honed a variety of skills and became more familiar with structure industry. However, I also learned how stressful the industry is, which ultimately made me recognize it just wasn’t a great fit for me.

Tags: best internship | job search | stories | summer internships | worst internship

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