Should I Quit My Internship: When is it Time to Step Away?

“Should I quit my internship?” Dive into reasons & tips to decide. Trust your gut and grow!


In the vibrant world of academia and professional exposure, internships stand as the bridge connecting theory and practice. Yet, not all internships turn out to be the transformative experiences they are often romanticized as. 

Over the past few years that I’ve hosted several internship programs at Shilpa Ahuja Media, I’ve observed a few interns grappling with the dilemma: to stay or to leave? Just as companies transition, so do the interns, evolving in their roles, understanding their aspirations, sometimes understanding this internship is not what they had in mind, and sometimes realizing that the current path might not be the right fit.

Should I Quit My Internship After a Week?

Simple answer is no, probably not. Getting bored at work? Don’t think you’re contributing as much as you want to? The work seems beneath you? Don’t quit. Instead, rock it.

The first thing to know about internships is that in most cases, you’ll just be expected to NOT interfere. Just observe and learn. That’s okay. You may be given petty tasks that annoy you. That’s okay too. Rarely, you’ll be given work that seems so hard it’s confusing and more annoying. That’s even better. Unless you get through the grind, you’ll never end up anywhere. Anyone who’s anywhere has been through this grind.

When I joined my first real internship, I was sitting doing nothing for hours at a stretch. My main job for the first two months was to put paper in the plotter. I never thought of quitting. I was determined to make the best out of it. 

I used to stand by the plotter for hours then. And I did a damn good job of it! Soon, the whole staff wanted my help to co-ordinate paper, printing and folding blueprints. Next thing I know, everyone knew me and wanted me to assist them with drafting and making presentations during my free time. My enthusiasm was what impressed them I think.

Before leaving, I had assisted the Director with a major report, made countless drawings and presentations, and even had my own intern. 

That report I assisted with, the intern I managed, and one of the staff members I assisted who inspired me to take up project management, all that got me my first job in project management. That’s why it is bad to quit an internship early, because you never know how it’s gonna be helpful.

Intentional Interning: The Power of Conscious Choices

Internships, by design, are short stints that offer a snapshot into the real-world workings of an industry. But sometimes, despite the brief nature of the engagement, the decision to discontinue can weigh heavy. The key lies in approaching this decision with intention and understanding.

“Reflect for a day, or even an hour, on what your internship has taught you and where you wish to head next.”

Drawing inspiration from the book Transitions, by William and Susan Bridges, the journey of an intern too can be seen as comprising three stages—the initiation, the exploration, and the culmination. It is really important for interns to understand and reflect on each stage of their journey.

While some internships seamlessly transition from the initiation phase to a full-blown job offer, it’s rare. More often than not, internships might hit a wall during the exploration phase. It’s the phase where one is not quite the newbie but hasn’t entirely fit into the system either. 

Think of it as the phase where you’re torn between the “we” of your university or college and the “you” of the professional world. This, in essence, is the exploration phase, where the real discernment happens.

So if you too are wondering, “Should I quit my internship if I hate it?” Here are all the factors to consider and how to make the decision.

Guided Reflection: Introspection Prompts to Know Whether You Should Quit Your Internship

For those interns navigating their emotions and decisions, setting aside time for introspection is really important. Reflecting on your journey, understanding your growth trajectory, by which I mean your personal aspirations, and gauging the alignment of the internship with your career aspirations, can offer clarity.

Here are some career-focused prompts for you:

  • What did you envision this internship would offer, and how has the reality aligned with this vision?
  • How do you feel about the tasks you undertake daily? Do they excite, overwhelm, or underwhelm you?t
  • Do you envision yourself doing the type of work in your future that you’re doing here?
  • Even if you’re finding this work hard, boring or useless, is there something you are learning here about the industry, corporate culture or working in the real world?
  • Can you visualize a long-term role in this company or industry? If not, why?
  • What are the three key takeaways from this internship so far, and how do they fit into your larger career goals?

Let’s go over some of these prompts in detail:

1. Envisioned vs. Experienced: Bridging the Gap

What did you envision this internship would offer, and how has the reality aligned with this vision?

What you came here to do doesn’t really match what you wanted to do, this is actually one of the top reasons to quit an internship early. But it doesn’t have to be. There’s a high chance your internship will end up teaching you many other skills that’ll be useful in your future.

At the outset, most interns step into their roles with a suitcase of expectations. These might be shaped by glamorous industry stories, senior’s anecdotes, or perhaps the company’s or CEO’s reputation. 

The true measure of an internship’s value often lies in the delta between these expectations and the ground realities. It’s essential to discern whether any misalignments are merely initial hiccups or indicative of a broader disconnect.

Also, if so, have you considered just discussing this misalignment with your manager instead of directly considering quitting? Sometimes a simple discussion or request is all you need.

2. Daily Drudgery or Dynamic Duties?

How do you feel about the tasks you undertake daily? Do they excite, overwhelm, or underwhelm you?

An average internship day can be a cocktail of varied tasks. Some can be mundane, while others could be thrilling. However, if the scales tip heavily towards monotony or, conversely, constant chaos, it might be time to reassess. An ideal internship offers a balance, with enough challenges to spur growth without ushering burnout.

3. Fitting into the Future: A Long-Term Lens

Can you visualize a long-term role in this company or industry? If not, why?

Internships are not just about the present; they’re the crystal ball into one’s professional future. If, even squinting hard, one can’t envision a future within the current setup, it could be a red flag. 

This lack of a long-term fit might stem from cultural mismatches, differing value systems, or simply realizing that the industry isn’t as enticing as it seemed from the outside.

4. Takeaways vs. Career Trajectory: The Interlinking

What are the three key takeaways from this internship so far, and how do they fit into your larger career goals?

Every internship, no matter its duration or domain, offers learnings. These can range from hard skills to softer, more intangible lessons. The crux lies in aligning these takeaways with one’s broader career aspirations. If the skills acquired seem disjointed from where one wants to head, it could be time to recalibrate and reconsider the path.

In the mosaic of one’s career, internships are the tiny tiles that add color and character. By reflecting on their alignment, value, and lessons, interns can ensure that these tiles fit perfectly into the larger masterpiece of their professional journey.

Navigating Feedback: Listening and Learning

Open communication is key, although as an intern, you’re on low priority for regular meetings. Still, regularly seek feedback on your performance when you can, and understand areas of improvement. Sometimes your manager isn’t at all available to give any feedback, or is constantly critical of your work, which is actually a red flag. 

If the feedback consistently indicates a mismatch between your skills and the role, or if the guidance your manager gave you doesn’t align with your career aspirations, it might be a sign to reconsider your position.

Mentorship Matters: The Role of Guidance

Internships aren’t just about tasks; they’re also about guidance. Identify if there’s a mentor figure in the organization you can lean on. A mentor can offer insights into your performance, the industry, and potential career paths. If you find a lack of mentorship or feel isolated, it could be a sign that the environment might not be conducive to your growth.

Gut Check: The Intuitive Instinct

Sometimes, logic needs to be complemented by intuition. How do you feel when you think about your internship? Elated? Indifferent? Stressed? While emotions shouldn’t be the sole decision-makers, they’re important indicators of your comfort and alignment with the role. Don’t be afraid to tune into your heart.

Mapping the Future: Envisioning the Next Steps

Once you’ve considered your experience and feelings, it’s important to think about the implications of either decision – to quit or to stay. Understand the repercussions of both in the context of your short-term and long-term goals. If quitting, what’s your next move? If staying, how do you plan to address any misgivings?

How to Quit an Internship You just Started

This is highly NOT recommended from me. It’s best to at least do some work, and stick around for a few weeks (while giving your best) before you even consider quitting.

Well basically, one shouldn’t just quit because of every small hiccup, misunderstanding, or spat with the manager. These things are normal in the corporate culture, so wait it out and move on with your work. Show your enthusiasm and it’ll all work out.

Seeking Counsel: Conversations with Trustworthy People

Talk to trusted people outside your internship environment – be it professors, family, career counselors, or senior friends. They can offer an outsider’s perspective, devoid of immediate biases, and help you weigh the pros and cons.

If you do decide to quit, it’s a good idea to read the room and see if your manager is willing to discuss the matter with you. If so, approach the topic in a professional way, either face to face or via email or phone call. 

Try to understand whether they even want you to stick around. Understand their feedback or reaction to your decision, and if possible, try to end things professionally. Seek their guidance on how to best stay in touch, and transfer your duties to fellow interns, if necessary.

All in all, while the decision to continue or quit an internship is deeply personal and contextual, taking a structured, reflective approach can help you make a choice that aligns with one’s professional journey and personal well-being. Remember, every step, no matter its direction, adds to your story. Make it count.

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