How to Deal With Tough Internship Projects

By Lorena Roberts on October 30, 2017

You’ve landed an incredible internship. You’re working with people who are inspirational and hard-working. You’re impressed with the company’s mojo, and you could really see yourself working here in the future.

You’re hoping this internship will land you a (lucrative) full-time position once you’re out of school. But there’s one problem. The projects they’re giving you are way over your head. Nothing from your classes has prepared you to deal with this kind of thing. You’re nervous that you won’t make a good impression and you’ll lose your shot at working for your ideal company in the future.

Not to worry. Here are some tips for dealing with projects that are tough at your internship.

 1. Ask for help

No one expects you to know everything. You’re an intern, for crying out loud. If you’ve been assigned a project that you don’t quite understand or know the ins and outs of, ask someone. Chances are, you’ve been assigned a mentor. They’re a good place to start. If they can’t help you, they can most certainly point you in the right direction.

2. Do your own research

Tap into the resources you have (like Google) and try to answer your own question. Depending on what kind of internship you have, this may or may not help. I wouldn’t rely on this 100 percent, but it’s a good starting point.

3. Collaborate

If there are other interns in your office – use them! They probably have some ideas as to where you should begin. Maybe they’ll have good pointers to help you get over the hump of starting a tough project. Teamwork makes the dream work, eh?

If you do include ideas or get help from others, make sure to give them the proper credit when you present your completed project. No one likes an idea-stealer, and your fellow interns will be less willing to help you the next time you need them if you’ve already taken credit for their previous assistance.

4. Ask questions

Whoever gave you this tough project probably expects you to have some challenges. They’re (hopefully) more than willing to help you get started or to push you past a tough spot. It’s worth it to at least set up a meeting and ask questions about what you should and shouldn’t be doing.

Your supervisor will be impressed that you took initiative to make sure you’re headed in the right direction. They’ll be more than happy to give you some pointers or hook you up with resources and show you where to start. If you don’t fully understand the project, it’s much more reasonable to ask questions to fill in the blanks than to guess and get it wrong.

5. Don’t worry

Every intern encounters a project that forces them to think outside of the box. If internships were supposed to be a piece of cake, there wouldn’t be much point to an internship. The reason you’ve signed up to do this is so you can stretch yourself — challenge yourself. The most important thing is to take it seriously and do your best. Companies are much more interested in your work ethic than whether or not you figured out a tough problem.

When you’re assigned a tough project at an internship, it means:

1. You’re trusted

This company has entrusted a problem to you to fix. You should be flattered. They wouldn’t have given it to you if they didn’t trust that you could get it done — or at least get a good start on it.

2. You’re smart

Whether or not you were their first pick after interviews no longer matters. If you’ve been given a tough project (and they know it’s a tough project, I promise), your supervisors know you’re smart.

3. You’re capable

And not only do they think highly of your intelligence, but they also know you’re fully capable of figuring it out.

4. You aren’t sitting on your butt

There are so many interns out there who end up doing a whole bunch of nothing. Thankfully, you won’t be one of these interns. You’ll have more than enough work to fill your plate. Be thankful that you’ve been assigned something to keep you busy instead of twiddling your thumbs 40 hours per week.

The bottom line is …

That you have an awesome internship. You’re building up your resume with the skills you’re going to learn over the next semester. Whether or not you complete this tough project perfectly is not the goal. You did this for experience, didn’t you? So take what you can from the experience of working your tail off to complete something hard and be thankful that you’ll be ahead of your peers. I promise in an interview one day, you’ll be able to use this challenge to your benefit.

Lorena graduated from The University of Tennessee in Knoxville last December with a BA in Honors Psychology. After some serious soul-searching, she's decided to pursue a Master's in teaching in order to teach middle school math! In her spare time, she enjoys spending time with her Whippet mix, Gio, at the dog park and binge watching Netflix with endless cups of Hot Cocoa.

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