Internships are the coveted summer experience of every ambitious college student looking to bolster their resume and increase their network of connections. At prestigious universities, the idea of a summer filled with anything but an internship after sophomore or junior year feels seemingly insane. It’s a competitive world, and everyone is looking to play the game better than the last. So when I received a position as an intern at a trading firm in Manhattan, I ditched my summer backup plans of being a camp counselor and took it with enthusiasm.
This was after freshman year, at a time when doing an internship was optional, but a strategic choice. Like many, one year at school had passed but I was still so unsure of what I wanted to do. My major was undecided within the business school, but even more importantly, I felt like I had no direction. I felt unguided.
The position at the trading firm was primarily analyst work. Every day I would sit down, pull up my company email, and begin opening up Excel spreadsheets with all the trading data from the previous day. Then, I would sort through it using a variety of mostly self-taught techniques. I asked questions when necessary, but it was expected that I would learn by trying. There was no one right way taught to me. I was told to look for anomalies and important trends. I was given autonomy over my work. We discussed current events and trading strategy. No one ever told me how to do my job. This autonomy was daunting, but it helped me flourish and gain confidence in my own abilities without becoming inhibited by reliance on superiors. It made me trust myself. I grew to believe that I was capable of adapting successfully to new and even intimidating situations.
I sat in on conferences and attended conventions with some of the traders. When the Head of Sales voiced his need for a PowerPoint presentation pertaining to a potential merger, I volunteered immediately. At this point in the summer, I had begun to realize that financial analyst work was not for me. I longed for more creativity. Many of the other offices in the building were occupied by McCann, one of the most iconic advertising agencies in the world. I envied those interns. However, working with the Head of Sales helped broaden my scope of work, and he was happy to have me. Taking the initiative to maximize my experience and explore a different department meant more opportunity to learn and explore. It meant the Head of Sales had help with his goals, and he was able to help me with mine. We helped each other. I was glad I volunteered.
By the end of the summer, I was burnt out. There was no doubt that my self-efficacy had increased drastically. I entered the position with no knowledge of financial markets or trading and hadn’t used excel since eighth-grade Computers class. By the end, I was finding anomalies in thousands of cells worth of data within minutes. However, I was also sick of doing so. Ten weeks was enough to convince me that finance was not for me. I enjoyed my work in sales more, but even that failed to inspire real passion. I began to dread going every day and lived for the weekend. I found myself reaching for my phone and disengaged.
But all of this taught me something. For one, it taught me that all experiences are valuable experiences. Had I not taken that internship, I could’ve continued on in the business school and chosen the finance track instead of marketing. I may have never realized how much I missed creative writing, and wouldn’t have added my English major. I would feel far less confident entering unfamiliar situations or taking on new roles and projects. I wouldn’t have acquired communication skills to interact with higher-ups, or have gained an appreciation for the practicality of data analysis in all fields. I wouldn’t have learned how to take initiative on high-stakes projects like company-wide presentations. I wouldn’t now be able to apply these skills to something that inspires me more.
Internships are so much more than the resume builders we think them to be. What you should get from your internship isn’t limited to an added skill on your skills sections or an updated LinkedIn. It’s meant to make you uncomfortable and make you reflect. I didn’t like my work last summer. I truly didn’t. But I didn’t tell myself it was okay because I could add it to the resume and move on. I told myself I needed to find what I did like. I needed to reflect on the good and the bad and make something of it. Something more than could be shown on my LinkedIn profile.
Don’t just take that summer internship, take in that summer internship. Don’t stop at the resume. Let it help you get one step closer to finding your passion.
COVER PHOTO: Refinery29