It’s summer intern season and it can bring up a lot of emotions, especially if your months of hard work are not going to end with a job offer.
San Francisco-based marketer Alex Schudy, who shares intern tips on TikTok, said she went through this when she wanted one of her college internships to become a job.
“It’s heartbreaking. It’s hard because you spend time and you learn the company and you learn the work and you put a lot of mental energy into being an intern,” she said. “So it can be really hard to hear that they’re not coming back to you with a full-time offer.”
But if you’re feeling bummed, know that there’s a way to use that internship experience, even if you hated the internship or wished it had converted into a job offer.
“I kind of see it as a redirection and an opportunity to find a place that is a better fit for you,” Schudy said.
Here’s how, according to career experts and former interns:
First off: Don’t blame yourself for not getting a return offer. There can be many reasons outside of your control.
Networking and learning how to share your ideas to those in power can help you get noticed, but often, hiring decisions come down to factors you may never understand.
“Sometimes the decision not to hire you back isn’t purely within your control. Perhaps the economy, your industry or your company isn’t so hot right now ― and by the way, at least one of these things is probably true right now ― and your company just doesn’t have the resources or isn’t receiving enough demand to justify paying someone full-time,” said Gorick Ng, Harvard career adviser and the author of “The Unspoken Rules: Secrets to Starting Your Career Off Right.”
Take it from Ng. He said he once had an internship at a small business, but he knew they didn’t have the budget to pay him even if he returned. “It’s like saying, ‘Hey, we’d love you to come back, but you’ll have to pay yourself.’ That’s not a job offer ― that’s a work offer.”
Also, sometimes it has nothing to do with the quality of your work and may come down to relationships that hiring managers build with a preferred candidate.
“Maybe both you and the company are doing splendidly, but your supervisor had a favorite ― and only one spot to fill ― and it wasn’t you,” Ng continued. “There are factors within your control and factors beyond your control. Reflect on the factors within your control so that you can be more strategic next time ― but don’t agonize over the factors beyond your control because they, well, weren’t exactly controllable.”
Understand that there are many valuable experiences you can use in the future outside of a job offer.
An internship is a valuable early opportunity in your career to learn what really matters to you about a job.
Does where you work matter to you? You can use your internship to find out, said executive coach Aiko Bethea.
“I traveled independently, had a daily job, and was entrenched in community — on the other side of the country. Priceless.”
“While I was in college, I made a point to have an internship in a different location each summer. I wanted to know what it was like to live on the West Coast,” she said. “Those summers were my first foray to California, and the housing and travel were paid for by the Children’s Defense Fund. I was in South Central LA the first summer and Oakland the second. I traveled independently, had a daily job, and was entrenched in community ― on the other side of the country. Priceless.”
Doing an internship can also prepare you for situations like managing different co-workers or boss dynamics, as well as show you flexible work arrangements you may want to prioritize in future job searches.
“Internships are great testing ground for what you like and dislike about a job, a workplace culture and the types of work environment you would thrive in,” advised career coach Angela Karachristos. “Ask yourself, ‘What was it about that company’s culture or work environment that you loved?’ Knowing that will help you ask better questions in interviews, evaluate future workplaces better and ultimately find yourself a great work fit.”
Use the actual work experience to show off skills and network your way into a future job.
Your company’s brand name, your title and responsibilities you had at your internship can also make great bullet points on a résumé, even if you were only there a short season.
“Make sure you document every project and work assignment that you participated in, keep track of great ideas you proposed and evaluate the types of problems that your workplace was trying to solve,” Karachristos said. “All of these things make for great examples to use in future interviews and lend themselves well to showcasing a more mature way of understanding organizations.”
And when you are sharing those summaries on a resume or a LinkedIn profile, it helps to get specific on what team you were on and your impact.
“Instead of calling yourself ‘Intern,’ try something more specific like ‘Human Resources Intern’ or ‘Talent Acquisition Intern,’” Ng said, noting that you should add numbers that can help you explain how big or important this task was like with wording such as “a readership of 20,000.”
Stay in touch with co-workers or managers you trust.
You never know who may connect you to your next opportunity, so it’s always strategic to maintain connections with people who work alongside you and above you.
One of best parts of being an intern is that you have a built-in reason for meeting with people. “Say, ‘I’m really early on in my career,’ and people are super responsive to that,” Schudy said. “Doing that while you’re at your internship is super important ... I’ve definitely kept in touch with my previous intern managers and other interns that I worked with.“
Writing a good thank-you note to managers and co-workers is one way to end the internship on a good last impression, but following up periodically is also key to making connections that last beyond a summer internship.
“Relationships aren’t built from singular conversations. They’re built from many interactions over many weeks and months,“ Ng said.
You can keep the relationship alive after your goodbye message by sharing relevant news with your former colleagues, as one example.
Did you find an article, video, podcast episode, newsletter or event that’s relevant to that person? Send it to them and say something like, “You may have already seen this, but it reminded me of our conversation,” Ng suggested, because “It’s an easy way to signal that you’re still thinking of them.”
If you’re connected with them on LinkedIn, try congratulating them on milestones like promotions or job switches, too. “Don’t be shy about liking and commenting. It’s an easy but often overlooked way to show that you’re invested in them,” Ng said.
Have self-compassion for yourself and take heart in what you learned this summer.
Ultimately, the best takeaway is to not take a lack of a job offer as a personal rejection. See it as a helpful redirection, Schudy said.
“I did four internships while in college, and I didn’t get a return offer. But because I didn’t get a return offer, it ultimately led me to a completely different type of marketing that I love,” she said.
There are unseen lessons from internships beyond what a project or a hiring manager will teach you.
“An internship ― like any job ― is not an indication of your future success. Take whatever you can from the experience and think about how you can leverage that into your next move,” Karachristos said. “No internship or job is time wasted ― everything is a learning experience, even if the main takeaway is what not to do, what doesn’t work, and how things don’t always go as planned.”