DePaul University Career Center's Blog

What to Do if your Summer Internship Isn’t Going to Plan

by Ellie Santonato

You’ve completed all of your finals and will be commencing your summer internship shortly. You’re filled with enthusiasm and prepared to embark on your next professional journey!

Although employers often strive to ensure interns’ success by establishing learning objectives, offering impactful projects, delivering performance evaluations, and facilitating connections, you might discover that your internship doesn’t exactly align with your initial expectations after a few weeks.

However, right now you need to identify the issue and prevent it from getting worse. 

Find the root cause:

First, why is your internship not living up to your expectations? Is it because you are not getting enough work? Or are you being excluded from projects that drew you to position? Is your manager unavailable and you feel left behind with professional development mentorship? 

  1.  Unfulfilled Promise(s) 

If you are feeling unsatisfied and feeling a lack of ambition during your internship hours, it may be due to an unrealistic job description or during the interview there was a lot of big talk. Could even be both, but throughout the application and hiring process it was reassured that joining the company would be the most remarkable choice you could ever make. 

Advice: Interns are not given too many responsibilities, at least not right away. As time goes by and your manager learns more about learning style, performance, and strengths you are likely to receive more work. However, it has been over a month and you still are not receiving additional work. It is best to have a chat with your supervisor. It may be scary but it shows great initiative. 

Let them know you feel unsatisfied with your workload and are ready to receive more responsibility. Prior to talking to them, think about areas in which you could add additional support to the team. You are thankful for the opportunity, remind your manager that that is still true. Overall, your manager may be new to delegating and managing you is an opportunity for them to further their professional development. They will be pleased with your request to challenge yourself further. 

  1. You would like more mentorship and career advice

When you started your internship you were either on-boarded by the Internship Coordinator and assigned a mentor or were introduced directly to a manager. Whoever leads you directly in your internship was meant to train you, introduce you to the organization, assign you with your daily and weekly tasks, track your progress, and provide you with solutions as problems arise. 

Managing is a skill. Yes, some of us are naturally good at leading groups and individuals, but management is about understanding your team’s strengths and weaknesses in order to delegate tasks accordingly. Your manager may be new to having assistance or may have too much work to provide you with the one-on-one attention you need as a young professional. 

Advice: Start self-learning and managing up. Self learning is valuable and allows you to Look for help from other interns and older colleagues, many of whom will be happy to teach you if you approach them. Don’t limit yourself to a single mentor. 

Managing up is establishing and nurturing an effective working relationship with your supervisor. You at times have to start that working relationship. Familiarizing yourself with your supervisor’s management, leadership, and communication methods and preferences. As a result you develop a better understanding of your own work style and communication preferences.

  1. You feel treated like a “Task-rabbit” 

A popular cliché about interns through literature, tv, and film is that the intern runs the office errands. Picking up coffee orders and dry cleaning. Doing work that does not seem apparent as to how it directly supports the larger organization, other than helping out the evil manager’s life. 

It is rare that organizations and managers treat their interns like this. But, sometimes your internship is not more than performing menial tasks like cleaning office spaces, getting coffee for the team, and running personal errands. Sometimes receiving more menial tasks may be the result of asking for more work, unfortunately and unfairly to you.  

Advice: Menial work should be balanced out with real work that provides you professional development. If you aren’t getting enough responsibilities, ask for more, if you were promised meaningful work when you applied, then ask why this isn’t being given to you. Speak to your manager about creating a better balance of workload. 

Pro Tip: Take a look at your job description and create project proposal(s) for your manager. Developing and presenting a project to a manager is a self-learning and professional development project. Plus, you get to create your own opportunity to focus on your interests and strengthen your skills. 

  1. The internship is not fulfilling. 

In February and March when you were searching and applying for internships you knew your strengths, skills, and post-graduation plans. You found the organization with the internship that on paper appeared to be the best opportunity for you. However, you have been at your internship for a few weeks and it just is not living up to expectations. 

Advice: If you experience this, do not lose hope. Knowing exactly what you do not want to or realize you no longer have an interest in it is a good thing. It will help you later to narrow down what your expectations are for future organizations or positions. 

What now?

  1. Reflect and Respond 

Ask yourself the following questions and take note of your response. 

  1. How big or small is the problem? 
  2. Will the situation improve if you wait?
  3. Can you handle the problem yourself, or does your supervisor need to step in?
  4. Is resigning the best course of action for you?
  1. Talk to the other interns and your colleagues and ask for help. 

The other interns may be having similar problems. Are there ways for you to support each other? Can another staff member provide you with the mentorship you are looking for? Remember – you are not alone through this experience. 

You might need to be more transparent with your supervisor – they only know what you tell them and can not read your mind. Expressing your needs will help make it a more fulfilling experience for both of you. 

  1. Continue or not to continue?

If your personal safety is at risk or you are experiencing harassment you do not and should not continue working for that organization. However, in most situations your problems will be resolved with the tips we have provided, so don’t lose hope!


Not sure what the future holds? Need support along the way? That’s exactly where we come in. Whether you’re a freshman or an alumnus, it’s never too early (or too late) to utilize our services.

Book an appointment with Ellie, or another member of the advising community through Handshake, or by calling the front desk at (773) 325-7431.

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