Is my internship worth it, or is it too much to juggle?

Posted in Careers, Mentor Minute

Is my internship worth it, or is it too much to juggle?

The Globe and Mail, Jun. 20 2013

The Question:

I’m a senior in university and am currently doing a part-time internship that pays only an honorarium but is at a reputable company that looks good on my résumé.

The position is administrative and there is not much room for interesting projects or learning opportunities.

Since the internship barely pays, I had no choice but to work another part-time job.

Additionally, I am enrolled in several summer courses as I changed my major and needed to catch up in order to graduate on time.

However, I am finding it extremely difficult to balance interning, classes, and working part-time.

My question is: Should I suffer through until August tackling all three commitments or should I quit the internship since I’m not getting much out of it?

I want to be able to do well in my classes since grades are important but also don’t want to ruin any professional relationships and lose out on a work opportunity.

My part-time job is more flexible, pays well, and lets me improve my skills but it is not with a “big” company.

Dropping any of the summer courses is not an option since I have to complete the credits.

The Answer:

I recently attended a webinar led by Darren Hardy, the editor of Success Magazine. He has had the opportunity to interview many of the most successful business leaders of our time. From Bill Gates, to Steve Jobs, to Richard Branson to Mark Parker. His insights from speaking with these business icons go straight to the core of your struggle.

First – what do you need to say no to?

Each of the great leaders he interviewed knew exactly what they would not do. What they needed to say no to so that they wouldn’t be distracted from what was critical in front of them.

“For every 100 great opportunities that are brought to me, I say no 99 times,” is a quote from Warren Buffett. So your first question is what do I need to say no to? Of all the things that you have on your plate this summer, are there any that are distracting you from what you need to be focusing on?

Second – the power of radical focus.

What are the vital few things you must focus on right now? What are you top priorities? Only when you have clarity of focus can you achieve extraordinary results.

So what is critical for you to focus on right now? I want you to answer that, but I’m going to take a stab at it based on your letter. It sounds like school and grades are your No. 1 focus. So, first ask yourself, what result do I want to get in these courses? Then, how much time do I need to dedicate to these courses to get that result? Set that at the top of your priority list.

So what’s next? Based on the time needed to excel at your courses, how much else can you effectively manage? Can you effectively both earn money from a part-time job and intern? If you can’t do both well, which one is your second priority? It sounds like you will learn more from the part-time job than from the intern experience. Again, what is your focus – to learn more or to pad your résumé?

Think ahead to a potential interview next year. What would you say about your intern experience that would make an employer want to hire you? Personally, I would rather meet someone who can tell me about the skills they learned, the leadership role they played, the experience they had at a part-time job where they learned a lot, than someone who can only really say “I worked at Big Name Company X, but essentially learned and contributed nothing.”

There’s nothing more transparent then when someone is trying to sugar-coat an experience that was meaningless.

Third – turning things around.

You can also ask yourself, how can I turn this intern experience into something truly meaningful? · If the work you are given is tedious, can you ask for more engaging assignments? What do you see that needs to be done? Can you ask around and see who is run off their feet and offer help?

Can you use the experience to dramatically expand your network? Are you seeking out the right people to meet, inviting them to coffee so you can ask questions about their jobs and potentially uncover opportunities for the future?

Can you get invited to meetings where you might learn something, even if it’s just to learn how to run an effective meeting?

The key here is to take the initiative and turn the intern opportunity into a powerful experience.

If you can’t do that, you truly are wasting your time. And time is such a precious commodity, better to put more hours into studying than simply “putting in the hours” to pad a résumé.

Katie Bennett is an executive coach and speaker, and the president of Double Black Diamond Coaching in Vancouver.