I can guarantee at some point in your life, you've lived through and (hopefully) survived a job that was less than glamorous. Maybe it's an internship where you were yearning to gain experience, network and build your professional portfolio, but turned into the stereotypical internship. You know, the one where you fetch coffee and clean the office. Or maybe, you're stuck in a job waiting tables or working in retail and can only dream of the day you quit. We've all aspired for the internship or job that makes you want to write home. But what happens when your new, fabulous opportunity quickly turns south? What do you do…then?
This past summer, I branched out and left my good-paying, college supporting part-time job with a flexible schedule to pursue an off-campus internship. I refreshed my resume, quickly applied, went through the three different interviews and landed the internship.
I was pumped, stoked and feeling all the positive adjectives.
However, a few weeks in I realized this great experience was the worst decision I have made career-wise. Every day I dreaded going into work. I sat in the parking garage with a queasy feeling in my stomach. I felt stuck – trapped and in a rut with nowhere to go. Let me clarify, it wasn't the company that made me feel this way, but my supervisor and department. I was treated with the attitude of "You're just an intern. What do you know?"
When you start feeling like you have nothing to contribute, it makes it hard to survive and thrive in a professional setting. After my summer of stress, I visited with the Career Development Center, located in Brennan III, to gain some information on combating a bad work environment.
I want this job. Now what?
We all know, in an application process, the employer is going to vet you. They’ll check your resume, your skills, your social platforms and so on. Therefore, you need to do the same.
Before you even apply, visit the Career Development Center to get the inside scoop of your employer and the job posting. If the job was posted on Handshake, the staff has information readily available to you. Coming into the center allows you to find out what you should expect from the job and the company. They also assist in the job search process and formulating questions to ask during the interview.
Another way to get the full scope is to research the company. Read the “About” section, the blog, mission and values listed on the website. Ask yourself if it matches your value system. Is the mission something you wholeheartedly believe in? Is the writing professional, edgy or humorous? The way a company presents itself online is an indicator of the overall culture you’ll experience.
Communicate with other students and employees who work or have worked for the company. Find out all the information you can about the work environment, the culture and the company overall.
Lastly, have your listening ears tuned into your conversation, whether it’s on the phone, a video call or in-person for an interview. The tone and voice can indicate what your work environment will reflect. For instance, in my interview, they said that “they won’t have time to invest in an intern.” Had I picked up on this earlier, I could have avoided a bad situation and steered clear of the internship.
Before applying for a job or internship, refresh your resume to make sure its top-notch. The Career Development Center offers resume critique workshops for students to attend.
I have the job but it's not great
So you got the job, went through orientation, decorated your desk and are ready to learn. But, it seems that you aren't learning. Maybe you're treated as a gopher, or you're not being invested in and given opportunities to learn. If you start to feel like the job, internship or co-op was a mistake and thoughts like "Where do I go from here?" flood your brain, it's time to stand up and do something.
- First and foremost, you have to advocate for yourself. Let me repeat it for the people in the back. ADVOCATE FOR YOURSELF. Communication is essential when in a bad work situation. Set up a time with your supervisor to discuss the issues you are feeling. But don't be aggressive or rude. Instead, be cool, calm and collected. The Career Development Center recommends saying something along the lines of, "I appreciate the opportunity I have been given. I have seen other interns receiving more opportunities. I would be interested in…" In this situation, it's best to appreciate the experience and then ask. Chances are, the supervisor is testing interns out to make sure they are a good fit, and you have every right to do the same. I tried to advocate for myself, but it went downhill. After explaining my side, I was told I was "weak and not doing what I was told" and, "you have broken all chains of command." The conversation shouldn't have gone this way, and afterward, I felt like I had no reason being there. If you've experienced something similar and your situation doesn't improve, the Career Development Center recommends visiting their office to intervene. They can manage both sides and figure out a solution.
If you're unsure of what to do in your situation, find a friend, mentor or trusted coworker to confide in. In my case, I talked (a lot) with my mentor. She guided me on what to do and provided the listening ear I needed. She helped give me strength and courage when I felt drained. If I hadn't talked with her, some of the events that empowered my exit wouldn't have happened. And if you don't have a mentor, Career Development is there for you. They want to see you succeed in college and your career. They can listen to your concerns, create a solution, and help navigate your way into a better position.
- Overall, the Career Development Center stresses to come to them ASAP. Don't sit in a bad situation and only allow it to grow worse. Take action immediately. For the staff at Career Development, it's easier to assist in an active job situation rather than after it's all said and done. And if you like being independent, your career is not the time to be. I should have gone to the Career Development Center for help, but I let my independent attitude get the better of me. I took action on my own, but it (quite frankly) sucked. I felt alone in my situation and like I wasn't successful.
I think I'm scarred from my job. What do I do?
I don’t have a cure-all solution for you because I’m still figuring out what to do. There are times at my new internship (which I LOVE) where I think I’m not a good fit and doing everything wrong. I let the words of my past supervisor creep in and haunt me. I do know one thing: Don’t hold any weight to those who hurt you. My intern experience wasn’t the best, and I wouldn’t wish what I went through on anyone. But sometimes, things happen. The hard experiences make us stronger and provide a valuable lesson. However, there are a few things to keep in mind going forward.
- When applying for jobs, don’t bash your previous employer. Chances are during your interview you’ll be asked the “Tell me a time when…” question. Don’t use this as a moment to bash your former employee, company or manager. This behavior-based question reveals your personality to the interviewer. The employee interviewing you is looking for how you will act in the future. Don’t be petty.
- Drop by the Career Development Center to attend events during their workshop series. The series is a great way to grow in your career-ready skills like problem solving, teamwork, leadership, communication and career management. The Career Development Center also offers meetings with career specialists, a mentorship program and other events on campus that are worth your while.
- During this time, practice the Three R’s: refocus, regroup, recuperate. Take time to think about your experience, what was good about it, what went wrong, the lessons you learned and so forth. Take what you went through it and use it propel you into a new avenue, whether that’s a job or internship. If money is tight, have something lined up before you leave the company or start searching right away.
My advice to you, after it’s all said and done, is to remember that you’re not alone in your experience.
For most, there’s been a job, a manager or coworker that you haven’t seen eye-to-eye with. Don’t let your differences stop you from learning. Take ownership and action and be the best possible intern or employee you can be. And always remember, your emotional, physical and mental state are worth more than a paycheck.
This article is based on the opinion and personal experience of one student who worked with the Career Development Center for advice.