Make the best of your internship, without getting exploited.
October 10, 2016
Summer has arrived and college students cannot wait to get away from the relentless routine of classes and just do “netflix and chill”. On the other hand the conscientious students are busy applying for summer internships to add extra credit to their college classes and experience to their CV.
Employers are more likely to hire candidates with prior work experience- even if the candidate is a fresh college graduate. This brings us to the familiar conundrum of ‘I need to be hired, in order to have relevant work experience’. This is where the role of internships comes for students pursuing a career after college. According to NACE’s Job Outlook 2015 survey said they prefer to hire job candidates who have work experience. Furthermore, relevant work experience is preferred by almost 75 percent of employers, and 60 percent of employers say they prefer work experience gained through an internship experience. Looking at these favorable statistics on internship most students instead of feeling joyful, feel doomed. The definition of internship for a student/intern would probably be along the lines of “little or no pay and learning with hefty exploitation.”
Internships have not always been synonymous of exploitation of cheap labor aka students. Going back in time, internships have evolved from apprenticeships, which originated with the trade guilds of Europe in the 11th and 12th centuries. Master craftsmen and tradesmen took in young learners under their wing and taught them with hands on experience. Apprentices served one master for most of their teen years. Then they could graduate to journeyman and start earning wages. Fast forward to present day internships; by definition is “temporary position in an organization with an emphasis on, on-the-job training rather than mere employment and it can be paid or unpaid.” While there are plenty testimonies of disgruntled students being exploited at their internship. The purpose of pursuing an internship is not to fetch coffee or run non-work related errands for employers. The original purpose of internships is to give students hands on work experience, workplace skills and build work ethic. According to a McKinsey study, only one out of four employers believes that traditional universities are doing an adequate job of preparing graduates for the workplace. Work ethics and workplace skills cannot be gleaned by memorizing a text book or by attending college lectures. Moreover, it also provides students the opportunity to build their network and gain understanding of their chosen field and explore career options within the safety net of being a student.
If internships are so beneficial and in today’s time a must for every aspiring job candidate how does one not fall into traps of a phony internship?
A major difference between apprenticeships and internship is the undefined nature of internships. Some employers while recruiting interns may not have any set agenda of work for interns and are looking for someone to fill in the gap of administrative assistant and peon during the slow summer days. However, most companies have an internship program for interns. Ideally the best time to set clear work expectations and understand your contribution to the company as an intern is during the interview. Naively most students fail to ask questions at the job interview either out of nervousness or apprehension. It is your responsibility as an intern during the interview to ask the interviewer what will your work responsibilities be within the organization, set a fixed number of weeks to the internship and ask for allowance that all interns are entitled to even if the internship is unpaid and get all of these details in writing from the interviewer. If the interviewer is unclear and does not accurately answer any of these question or is miffed by them pursue the internship at your discretion. The key to getting a good internship is to understand your rights as an intern and communicate your expectations to the employer and also understand the expectations of the employer before accepting the job offer.