How to Recover from a Failed Internship

Dear Dr. Civitelli,

For the past eight months, I have been interning at what I initially thought was a dream startup company while taking classes. At first, I was working in an area that matched my skillset. When the grant the project I was part of was not renewed, I was asked if I wanted to do QA testing. Even though the employer and I knew that this was outside my skill set, I agreed to try it. I began learning as much as possible as quick as possible. I worked long hours when I was not in class. During the class break (one month) between summer and fall semester, I worked fulltime. The last few months I have struggled to complete the work which is and always has been outside my skill set and the manager always gives me very general answers to specific questions. The internship is now ending and “they feel there is too much of a gap” between my skills and their expectations and “they have no position available.” Though I’m upset, I’m also relieved. I’m actively looking for fulltime employment now. It is not quite the same as being fired, but how do I handle future interview questions asking about my time at this internship? Should/how can I ask about what kind of reference they would give? What is the best route to take to leave on good or at least neutral terms?

Thank you,
Sad Intern

Sad to Happy

Dear Sad Intern,

I am sorry your internship did not turn out as you hoped. It sounds like you tried to make the best of a disappointing situation, so here are some tips to try to maximize the experience:

– On your resume, focus on any measurable accomplishments there were, if possible, that you facilitated during your internship.

– Negotiate with this employer about what they will say when contacted about you. Remind them what your core strengths are even if you didn’t have much opportunity to use those when you worked w/ them.

– If you are asked questions in a job interview about this internship, make sure you describe the time as positive and as a learning experience. It is fine to say that because the grant wasn’t renewed, the focus changed in a direction not congruent with the mission of your internship (this gives you an opportunity to reiterate what your skills are).

– Consider doing some volunteer work during your job search in an area related to what you want to do so that this internship isn’t the only thing you are bringing to the table in the job market.

I hope that helps!

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