To Intern or Not to Intern?

September 28, 2014 § Leave a comment

Espresso , the most vital tool in an intern's toolbox.

Espresso , the most vital tool in an intern’s toolbox.

“Is it worth it? Internships are a lot of time and work and I’m debating if I should even get one?” you ask me.
I put my hand on your shoulder like a kindly mother-figure. “I have no idea, dude” I say.

The discussion about whether internships are worth it or not is vast and ongoing, in fact, USA Today published a piece this week asking is the “era of unpaid internships is over?” citing lack of benefits. And it is much more complex on a economic/cost-benefit way/la-di-da jargon-y way that is too much for one blog post (plus I barely passed Econ101) so we’re gonna have a frank discussion college student-to-college student.

I’ve reduced it to a pretty simple formula: if the internship is getting more out of you then you are of it, then it’s not worth it. You should leave.
You have rights and you have the power to say “no, this is messed up and I’m doing a disservice to myself by staying here and not truly exploring my potential” and skedaddle as fast as your little feet can take you. In fact, unpaid interns at Fox Searchlight who worked on the movie “Black Swan” won a lawsuit that their unpaid work was a violation of minimum wage and overtime laws.

You need to look at your own personal situation and sees if the internship is benefiting you, or simply holding you back from more worthwhile pursuits. I have two internships before my current one where I was treated like a disposable entity and learned nothing except how to waste an entire semester doing grunt work. Factor in the cost of commute and whether the internship is taking time away from a paid job, your ability to study and focus on school, and even your social life. Don’t let it take all your time. If you can balance all these and form a symbiotic relationship with your internship, then go for it.

Another tip is to do your research! E-mail the company or intern coordinator, badger them with questions about what you’ll doing and how much work will be expected. That way, you won’t show up on the first day and be surprised with your new (and unwanted) position as errand-boy/girl/person. Check to see if the company had a track record of hiring past interns. And most importantly, see if the internship fits into what you want to do. Be wary of general and vague job descriptions like “be a part of our team” and “gain experience”. If they can’t tell you what they want you to do, then they don’t know. So move on.

If an internship works, you should be learning something that’ll allow you to wiggle your way through that seemingly blocked employment door we’re all trying to get through.
If an internship doesn’t get you any closer to this door, or even shuts it in your face, you need to leave before you’re exploited further.

What about you? Do you find unpaid internships worth it?


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