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Friday, April 30, 2010

should I extend my internship?

A reader writes:

I am currently doing an unpaid internship that I am receiving college credit for this semester. I really enjoy working with my manager and after reading your previous post on extending the length of an internship, I decided to ask my manager about it. She was fine with it when I asked; however, she is always so busy between meetings, dealing with employees and doing her own work that I am often left just sitting there in her office watching her or I am asked to leave when she has an important meeting with someone. It's an internship where I am given random stuff to do so I do not have an actual desk/computer or any routine work that I can do when I come in. I tried talking to her about it a bit, but she only admited that her work keeps her busy.

What I like about it is that I can receive credit for a class and also, she really does try to do her best to make time for me when she can, but I feel like I am in her way or bothering her in her work at times. Is this worth extending the internship?

Well, first, I don't think you should make your decision based on a worry that you're in your manager's way. If you are, that's her issue to deal with -- by not saying yes to the extension. You're better off just having faith that she'll tell you if she can't accommodate the internship anymore, since otherwise you risk driving yourself crazy worrying that you're secretly burdening her.

Now, as for whether or not to extend the internship: It depends on what you want to get out of it. If you feel like you're learning things and getting useful experience, then sure. But otherwise, I would move on and look at other interning or volunteer opportunities that will benefit you in ways that this one isn't. I can't actually tell from your letter whether you feel like you're getting much out of this one or not; much of what you wrote sounds like it's not the most fruitful experience for you, but you do say that you're enjoying it, and I can't tell if you're bored or not, so a lot depends on that.

However, if you do want to stay, look for ways to improve the experience. Do you see projects that might be useful for you to take on? Or can you talk to her about whether there's something that you might work on long-term so that she doesn't need to spend time coming up with ways to occupy you? The best project in this situation would be something that would (a) benefit the company in some way, (b) not require tons of guidance from her, (c) take a good chunk of your time, and (d) not be high-risk, meaning that if it doesn't go perfectly, nothing disastrous will happen (so that she won't feel the only way you could do it is with a lot of guidance or oversight from her). 

But you can also always look at other internships out there. You might end up in something you like better, so I'd take a look at what other options you have as well. Good luck!


Gyanban said...

sometimes converting interns to permanent jobs are a tricky situation..dependent on multiple it might be a good idea to get an upfront understanding - as to what could be the potential road map after the the internship is over..

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the response; however, I should have specificed that even though she is my manager, she is also my mentor as well and a very intelligent one. I think I enjoy it more not because of the work I do, but because she's great as a person (that is when she does have the time to actually "mentor"). Do you think this should be a factor in staying?

Ask a Manager said...

@Gyanban: I think she's asking about just having her internship go on longer than originally planned (rather than converting it into a regular job).

@Anonymous: Yes, that's definitely worth factoring in! Do you think she's someone you could continue to use as a mentor after leaving there? If so, you could have the best of both worlds by continuing the relationship with her but also moving on to another internship, where you'd get different experience. That said though, I think that if you feel like you're continuing to get valuable things out of the experience, it's worth staying -- especially if you can take on the sort of project I talked about in the post.

Since it sounds like you have a great relationship with her, the best thing to do might be to just talk to her candidly about all this. Tell her you're worried you're a burden because she's busy, that maybe a long-term project would solve that, that you'd love to stay because you love working with her, but wonder what she thinks the best move for you would be.

Anonymous said...

If she's your mentor, then perhaps you should ask her for her advice. She may think you gained the experience you can from her company and finding a different place might contribute to a different skill set you will also need in your future career.

After Diploma said...

This is always an interesting situation to be in. But, if you have a good relationship with the manager then you should talk openly with them regarding options and where they see this headed.
Of course make sure to get decisions in writing :)

Whatever you do, don't burn the bridge and keep them as a potential reference. You most likely will need this assistance or reference down the road.

Good Luck!

Marsha Keeffer said...

Extend and get her commitment to a brief weekly meeting in which you suggest things you're going to do. She edits the list, you agree and you're off and achieving.

Darcy said...

Just be aware that the DOL is currently cracking down on internships and if you do anything that benefits the company (a.k.a. something that you can actually learn from), the company must pay you. So that could be a factor that's contributing to not having enough to do.

Ask a Manager said...

There are some exceptions to that though, like nonprofits.