Three questions to ask before you quit your internship
You’ve probably had at least one person in your life stress how important it is to do internships. They are great for building up your experience in a new discipline, or gaining credibility in a competency you’ve developed outside the workplace or classroom. I personally have had the incredible luck to land two extremely relevant internships as I prepare to start grad school later this year. Being able to demonstrate on your resume that someone else (like a former employer) thought you were responsible enough to be in charge of a project or proficient enough to use a specific system/ tool, and that you then leveraged that trust to make a measurable impact on a company metric, is incredibly valuable in making yourself competitive for future positions. Here are some things to consider when you aren’t sure you’re going to walk away from your internship with those benefits, using a friend’s recent experience for context.
While battling with the wind on a rainy Wednesday, I received a call from my friend Piper.* I’d admittedly tuned out while trying to catch enough wind to flip my umbrella right-side out until I heard “…and I think I have to quit this internship. It’s over in two weeks, but there’s just no point. It’s the end of the semester, I’m staring two other internships I have to juggle, and all I’ve done this whole time is create a list of real estate brokerages* in the city! This is a waste of my time.” Based on my network’s experiences, this is a pretty common sentiment, and sometimes you really do need to leave your current role to reach your goals somewhere else. Before you leave though, there are three questions you should ask yourself:
WHY are you doing what you’re doing?
Very rarely can a company afford to actually assign you “busy work.” No matter how tedious, you were given a task because someone wanted to give you an opportunity to practice something new (best case scenario), or because he/ she did not want to do it themselves (worst case scenario) — either way, it needed to be done. In Piper’s case, that list of brokerages was actually the basis for a series of cold emails her employer planned to send.
WHAT more could you be doing?
It’s better to bring a solution when you are tempted to quit than to leave with nothing more than, “I’m disappointed and bored.” When you find yourself in an internship or even a full-time position that seems like a dead end, or in which you feel under-utilized, before you quit, think about how you would expand your role. Are there any related tasks that it makes more sense for you to perform than someone else? If you are working on the early stages of a process or project, would it actually benefit your supervisor to let you take on the next step(s)? Knowing what she did about the purpose of her list, Piper had already formed the idea of sending the emails out for her boss as she added each firm, and even drafted the introductory email.
HOW would you do what you want?
After figuring out what would make the role more compelling for you and valuable for your employer, you have to plan how you could take it on. It’s extremely important to make it easy for your boss to say yes. Lay out a plan, so all he or she needs to do is sign off and let you run with it. You have nothing to lose if you are about to leave anyway! Even if your company tells you they aren’t able to accommodate your request, you have demonstrated that you’re willing to take on additional responsibility; you’ve shown initiative, thoughtfulness, and tact; and you’ve expressed that you want to facilitate a mutually beneficial experience for both sides. This puts you in a much better position at the end of the conversation, whether you choose to stay or leave.
Piper actually had asked for the opportunity to execute on her idea before, so she was understandably nervous at the prospect of asking her boss again and being perceived as “nagging” him. Upon further consideration, however, she realized she hadn’t built a very solid case for her idea when it she’d first mentioned it. Piper and I talked through a polite but pointed presentation on how the project could be made more efficient by list-building and cold-emailing simultaneously, resulting in less time and effort for her boss, and ensuring the whole project would be completed by the end of her internship.
We also explored some possible arguments against her idea, and steps that would need to change — for example, what if her boss didn’t want her to contact every firm she found? As she had never shared her master Google Spreadsheet with her boss (she saved sporadic Excel downloads to another cloud storage tool), there was no way to update her list with which firms to exclude without several steps. However, if she shared the master list and demonstrated how simple it was to see her progress in real time and add notes while avoiding versioning issues, her boss would be much less likely to have misgivings.
In case you were wondering… DID it work?
Piper set a meeting with her boss later that afternoon, during which she outlined the “more” she could be doing and how she would do it. He not only approved her email draft and okayed her simultaneous list compilation and reach-out idea, but also offered to get her on a deal (her primary goal for the internship) in her last few weeks as a reward for taking initiative. This wasn’t a one-off: a former coworker, Nora*, similarly earned her role leading her company’s Business Development team by going to the company’s COO and presenting a PowerPoint deck outlining how the team could be improved, and how her background in sales made her uniquely qualified to take the team to the next level via specific strategic changes.
Asking for what you want in a purposeful way does pay off — whether you gain a more valuable experience, consideration for future opportunities, or more examples for your employer to include in a future recommendation. The next time you prepare to leave a position, make sure you have actually asked for what you want first!
*names and industries changed for anonymity