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Monday, November 26, 2012

Internships: Pros & Cons

Don't worry everyone; I'm not dead, I've just been crazy busy getting the hang of this work-life balance thing now that I'm working full-time. Today, however, I've decided to break my nearly month long silence with this post. One of the blogs that I avidly follow, 7% Solution, did a series of posts over the summer giving advice and tips on getting into college, how to adjust to college life, and what to plan for after college. These posts got me thinking, "Since I am a year out of college myself, I have a wealth of advice to give!" So here it is folks, my little two cents worth! I decided to do this post on interning because there doesn't seem to be a lot of first-person literature on interning.



Pros
 
One of the biggest advantages with interning is that it's a great way to gain additional work experience. Internships are usually relatively easy to get, and they can give you real workforce experience that you might otherwise not have gotten, such as dealing with different supervisors, working with different populations and others from different backgrounds, and doing real work-related tasks. It can also give you a chance to try out different career fields. In my case, I did an internship at a non-profit social service company. While there, I got a chance to work with people from lower-income urban areas, a population that I had not previously worked around as a student working on campus. This helped me to not only learn how to work around people from different backgrounds, but also gave me experience tackling tough situations, like conflict resolution among our clients. I also had a chance to work with confidential material, which is something that a lot of full-time jobs look for in an applicant! These kinds of experiences gave me an edge over other recent graduates in many of my early interviews. In this economy, you need all the extra help you can get!

Internships are great for building your professional network. When you intern, don't be afraid to pump your supervisors for information. If you are interning in a field that you are interested in going into as a career, ask the people who work their what it's like to work in that field/organization. If you are like I was, and still looking for a job, ask the people who work there if they know anyone who is hiring. At the time I was interning, I wanted to be a paralegal, so I told my supervisors, and they told me about open positions at law firms and resources for where to find law jobs. I also got a lot of interviewing/resume advice from them! And always ask to use your supervisors as references for future jobs!

Contrary to popular belief, internships are not just for current students. Although there are many internships that require all applicants to be currently enrolled students, many will also accept recent graduates (just graduated, or a year or two out of school). All of my internships were done after I graduated. At first I did feel awkward about being the only graduate interning, but I've since found out that there are many people who do post-grad internships.

Internships can lead to permanent jobs. This is actually another reason I did post-grad internships. My job search wasn't going so hot, and I had heard this, so I decided to start interning. While it is true that there are internships that will hire you afterwards, these are usually corporate internships, or major companies who tend to recruit via internships.

There are paid internships. While it is true that some internships are paid, or at least offer some kind of stipend, or monetary compensation, the majority of them are not (at least according to my research and experiences).

Internships offer flexible schedules. This is true of most of the internships that I've come across. Some require you to work less than part-time hours, which is great if you have a part-time job as well. Some require you to work 20 hours/week, but usually they are flexible in how you arrange your work schedule, as long as you are consistent and meet the hourly requirements.

Cons
How ethical are unpaid internships? While searching and researching internships, one of the biggest subjects that I can across was the question of how ethical unpaid internships are. Like I mentioned above, the vast majority of internships are unpaid. Many scholars/recruiter/college career advisors/who ever else looks into this question whether it is really fair for internships to not pay their interns for doing the same jobs that the employees are doing. From my own experience, I've run into many of the problems of unpaid internships. At one internship I worked at, I was actually doing the exact same job as the employees, working the exact same hours (this company required interns and employees to work at least 20/hours a week), but I wasn't even getting paid! This company wasn't getting much business, and was losing money left and right. The guy who owned it hired about 5 or 6 new interns every semester to run his business and keep the cost down. Of course, one of the reasons internships are usually so easy to get is that they are not paying the interns, so it's easy to just take anyone on because there is no liability involved. Unfortunately, employers often use this as a way to take advantage of interns.
I recently applied for an unpaid internship to get some extra experience in development and fundraising. The interviewers kept going on and on about how impressed they were with my resume and application. I told them I was also applying to full-time positions as well, but if I didn't get one I would intern with them. They literally called me every other day for almost three weeks to keep telling me how impressed they were with my resume, and to see if I had heard anything the other positions. Of course, when I called them to tell them that I had a job offer, they dropped me like a hot potato, and didn't even bother to return my phone message! I know that I went in with the knowledge that it was an unpaid position, but the reason they were sooo impressed with me was because they thought they would get my 5 years of experience for free!

Some internships can be a little on the sketchy side. Because interns are so cheap, and require little, or no paperwork, a lot of lowly employers can hire them. One of the internships I worked in was a start-up (and had been for over 10 year, if you can still call that a start-up). The entire company was housed in an office about as big as my living room, with about 10-15 people working there. The guy who owned it was being dishonest in the way he made business partners, and hired some of the freelance writers. Of course, I left this internship as soon as I could for a more honest and reliable company. I have also turned down a lot of internships because they were in less than desirable areas of the city. Naturally, I don't expect to work in Trump Tower, or anywhere like that, but as a young woman who usually commutes alone, if I don't feel comfortable in a place, I'm not going to stick around!

With this being said, always research the company you are interning with to see how reputable it is, and, if possible, go to the site to see what the office and surrounding area is like. Also, don't trust every internship site out there; everyone of them has both good and not so good internships. For example, I know that Craigslist has a lot of very shady sounding internships, but the less than reputable one I mentioned above actually came from my university's job and internship board!

Internship tasks can be less than great. In any job, even your "dream job", there are going to be tasks that you hate to perform, but with internships, it can be worse. A lot of the time, employers will toss the jobs that no one else wants to do, not even for money, on the interns, because they are super cheap, and there are usually a ton of them! If you find yourself in this situation, you can stick it out, get another internship, or ask for additional responsibilities. The latter is the best option to take because it shows that you take the initiative, are not lazy, and are serious about working!

******
As you can see, there are more benefits to interning than there are cons. However, the few cons are very weighty and important. It is important to realize that not all internships are going to be bad, so don't look at the cons and think, "I'll never intern! Never, ever!!" These are simply meant to be things to be aware of, and keep in mind, because, after all, there are two sides to every coin. Overall, internships are a great way to earn valuable experience, build a network, and help get your foot in the workforce door if you don't have a lot of previous work experience!

8 comments:

  1. You're so lucky your finish! It's my first year - doing it in another language. It's hard adjusting to the college life :( I can't wait to finish already lol

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    1. Hang in there! I'm in no hurry to go back to school, and I can't imagine how it must be going in a different language (I know how tough foreign language classes were for me)!

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  2. congrats on finishing! and hmm I don't think free interships are ethical at all... unless there are HUGE perks involved, huge as in compensation on food and it's an amazing amazing company... I dislike companies or people taking advantage of other's service haha

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    1. Thanks! As someone whose done several unpaid internships, I completely agree with you!

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  3. I feel so honored that you mentioned me! It really made my day.

    So, here's my two cents. I think a lot of these issues depend on the industry that you're in, because I have not seen a lot of these circumstances. Unpaid internships and internships in exchange for startup stock are highly suspect... especially the latter. I have a few friends who really think that they are going to be paid but never receive anything.

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    1. Aww, no problem! Your right, though, it does depend on the industry, but I usually got the sucky, small local companies! Also, start-ups are a little iffy anyway, since there is no guarantee that they will succeed long enough for you to reap any real benefit, other than the work experience.

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  4. I'm probably in the minority, but all my internships were unpaid and I don't feel badly about that at all. I picked up a lot of experience and regardless of how the company treated me, I still got to write on my resume and gained work experience. If anything, I learned how NOT to treat people.

    Of course, there are a ton of shitty companies that try to lowball/outright screw interns and those places should be avoided for sure. But in general, I think there's still a lot to be gained at unpaid internships. In any case, if the internship is really terrible, at least you'll be able to say you are employed/interning while looking for a better position.

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  5. Good point. I did have one internship that went really well, and I did gain a lot of experience and made a lot of connections with the people who worked there. I think a lot of it is a regional thing too. I live in Philadelphia right now, and there are a lot of sketchy small organizations/companies in general.

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