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7 Ways to Refurbish a Rotten Internship

Vicki Salemi

If you're immersed in an internship that is headed quickly to nowheresville, you may look for the nearest exit door. But the truth is, there are several ways to make the most out of this bad situation. The job description may have been tossed at the window as soon as you arrived, or maybe you're slowly discovering you've become more skilled at fetching coffee than learning how the business is run -- whatever the bleak situation is, you can still make the most out of it.

All is not lost, as this experience is still valuable even when it feels like a dead-end street. You can still put it on your résumé and gain new contacts while you're there. Here are several pointers to make the most out of an otherwise lackluster experience.

1. Focus on the positive. The point of an internship isn't only to expose you to a specific company or industry and become an apprentice; it's to get you into the routine of real world responsibilities. Do you show up on time? Do you commute? Do you interact with colleagues? Great! You're building muscle to showcase your ability to be reliable, and this isn't to be taken lightly. Yes, your internship may seem unbearable, but there are a few take-aways you can talk about during future job interviews.

2. Ask questions. If your main task each day is to ensure the conference room is stocked with appropriate snacks, leverage this as an opportunity to speak up and become assertive. If your boss and his or her colleagues have a weekly meeting, ask to attend. Raise your hand, ask questions, explore. Even though they don't know what you're capable of accomplishing, they may not think you're interested in what goes on behind closed doors. You may be surprised as to what doors officially open once you prop them open yourself. Go for it.

3. Look at the big picture. The internship is temporary, right? So just remember there's an end date in sight. You probably have at least one colleague who might connect with you on LinkedIn and recommend you, yes? You've gained some skills, such as multi-tasking and time management. Not to mention you're learning how to dress the part by observing corporate culture and team dynamics. Don't underestimate the small stuff. In fact, this is all important to your career growth. The internship may feel rotten but fast forward to the fall semester and it will be nothing but a distant memory and a few robust bullets on your CV.

4. Rule out what you don't like. The beauty of a fleeting internship (that may feel like it's taking forever to endure at the time) is that you're weeding out what you don't like. This is part of the career exploration process. Imagine if every internship and every experience was positive? How would you ever whittle down your interests when they're all so inviting? The same goes for your major -- let's say it's English. You may have immediately realized after taking Bio 101 that it wasn't for you. No, not Calculus 101 either -- check that one off the list. So, you see, tackling an internship that isn't the most exciting or challenging is actually good. Not only do you see what you don't like, you'll learn from it for your next internship. And if you like the responsibilities but can't stand the company or industry, good for you. You're learning what you want from an employer and what aspects you can kick to the curb.

5. Take good notes. This doesn't pertain so much to the job but to the internship interview process itself. For instance, was the job description vague during the interview? In hindsight, did you notice anything off about the corporate culture? What was your gut impression on your first day? These cues may help tune you into future internships and job interviews down the road.

6. Explore other aspects of the company and make new connections. If you're interning at a mid to large-sized company, congratulations. You're already on the inside. Are there other departments you're interested in exploring? For instance, maybe you're a business major who wants to get into marketing. Schedule informational interviews while you're on-site.

Ask to meet with department leaders of various areas you're interested in -- this is a good idea even if your internship wasn't a negative experience. Put in facetime, ask questions, make connections and work it. Look at it this way -- they most likely won't say no. It's very hard to turn down an intern who is eager and excited to hear about what they do. Plus, people love to talk about themselves. Provide them with that opportunity. Then remember to send them a thank-you note and connect on LinkedIn.

7. Savor this real world experience. As you can see, there are a few ways to deal with an otherwise unsettling experience and unfortunately, once you land a full-time job situations will arise that may be unfavorable, too. And in that situation there may not be a specific end date in sight other than the day you land a new job. So, chalk this up to a learning experience for your career in learning how to make lemonade out of some lemons.

Vicki Salemi is the author of Big Career in the Big City and creator, producer and host of Score That Job. This New York City-based career expert and public speaker possesses more than 15 years of corporate experience in recruiting and human resources. She coaches college grads individually with an intense Job Search Boot Camp, writes and edits the MediaJobsDaily blog on Mediabistro, and conducts interviews as a freelance journalist with celebrities and notable names. BlogHer named her one of the country's top 25 career and business women bloggers worth reading.

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