The Minority Millennial: Intern Extraordinaire, Part I

internship

The Life and Times of Many Interns (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

Note: This is a post for everyone that has done an internship, or for those who are hoping to do one soon. 

Here’s the facts about internships:

  • Interns come in the paid and unpaid varieties. You can naturally assume which one is coveted, but even the paid ones are struggling to cover the cost of living (as not all of them pay a decent wage).
  • There’s been some debate on the legality of unpaid interns, and whether their exploitative or helpful. Due some of the legal claims, this may change the nature of unpaid internships within the next 5-10 years.
  • For most majors, internships are the new reality. The recommendation is to do 2-3 before graduating, but it depends on a lot of factors.
English: CBO interns

English: CBO interns (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So for students, finding an internship is a must. But for many, working for free is financially impossible. I completely understand, as I’m only able to do it because I’m working roughly 4 jobs every semester. For those worried about the intern squeeze, here are my top tips for you:

Set goals, set money, and make a choice

If you don’t have the money for an unpaid internship, don’t kid yourself. Look for available resources such as if your school offers stipends. There’s also INROADS for minority students looking for potential work. Many schools require internships – and you have to pay for it. Make sure you know the basics as early as possible, and then create a budget

Paid Intern? Maximize your time

You’ll hear a lot of discussion about it, but there’s little benefit to being a paid X intern at prestigious company if you’re just shuffling papers all day. Don’t be afraid to speak out to your coordinator, and ask if you can attend a marketing team meeting, take a day to observe the trading floor, or shadow the programming staff for a day. It’s great that you’re being compensated for your time, but remember that most paid internships are similar to entry level positions: they’re testing you to see if you’re a good fit for the company. Take the initiative.

Unpaid? Budget, negotiate, maximize, and power through

Under any conditions, please do NOT take an unpaid internship and stay with it if you think your time isn’t being maximize. There’s a lot of talk about not burning bridges, and many will tell you to stick with the internship for recommendations, but for those who can’t afford to provide free labor for little benefit, it’s not worth it. A mediocre recommendation from a supervisor that barely involved you within the company is of little benefit.

That said, don’t scoff at the internship immediately because it’s unpaid. I’ve had to work during all of my unpaid internships, but I can definitely attest that most of them gave me valuable skills that I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere else (like interviewing the head of the American Firefighters Association at a rally in Philadelphia).  But I do think that many of them can be questionable. Ultimately it’s a judgement call, and one that we have to make with little preparation.

Word of Caution: While the debate concerning unpaid interns is ongoing, I severely caution potential interns to throughly research companies, their reviews, and the corporate culture before taking on an internship. It is not worthwhile to be exploited, and protect yourself from taking on an exhausting and fruitless task by defining your goals and keeping in close contact with the media and your career center. And even then, the judgment calls will have to be on you.

Next week, I’ll post part II of the Intern Extraordinaire, giving you some more tips on finding, choosing, and surviving your internship!

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