Get me a coffee please! (LF on internships)

It was only after I graduated from my postgraduate program last year that I had to face the dreaded word: internships. Up until that point, I had never considered doing one because I worked full-time out of university. Fast forward one year and I’m completing my second one.

Please pay me...

Internships are a funny thing. You’re the lowest rung of the corporate ladder and you’re sometimes unpaid or at least poorly paid. Having worked full-time for almost two years beforehand, I had to swallow a LOT of pride to take on an internship. Unfortunately in my new field, it is a rarity to get a job straight out of school without having to take on at least one. I’ve decided to talk about them today because going from a full-time job (dental plan!) to an intern job can be difficult. Now that I have several months of experience with them, there are a few tricks I’ve learned along the way that I wish I knew when I started.

Swallow your pride

Like I said, this was a huge one for me. You may be used to being the Queen/King Bee at school, at previous jobs or amongst your friends but here, you are at the very bottom. I mean, the office hamster probably has more seniority than you. This doesn’t mean you aren’t worth something, but it does mean you have to work hard to prove yourself even if it means motoring through some tedious tasks. Stay positive because this is simply a stepping stone.

Mr. McHamperston, Senior Manager

Take initiative

It’s important for your boss to see that you are enthusiastic and willing to take on new challenges. People won’t always give you challenging tasks voluntarily, but if you start proving that you can take on more than what is given to you, you’ll start getting noticed.

Start with goals

Goal-setting is always important and in this case, it isn’t a bad idea to go into your internship with specific things that you want to get out of it. Speak to your boss about your goals and ensure that you keep them in the loop. Not only will they be impressed that you have a plan but they’ll try to throw opportunities your way that will fulfil your learning objectives. My boss is great this way and always tries to throw me tasks that I might find interesting and challenging.

Network

This is a topic that has probably been beaten to death but there’s a reason for that! Networking is key and when you’re an intern, you have the opportunity to meet a range of people in your chosen field. Try to get to know as many people as possible because even if you don’t end up staying on, you never know where your next opportunity will come from.

Show interest

You may work somewhere and you may be doing a terrific job, but if you boss doesn’t know that you would love to work there, you may be passed up for opportunities that arise. It’s important to connect with your boss on a regular basis and let him or her know that you are very interested in an opportunity to stay on. If you see specific opportunities open up that match your skill set, let your boss know immediately before they even start looking at other candidates!

Seek out learning opportunities

For instance, I know that in my field, media relations is a skill that often shows up in postings. I’m fortunate enough to work somewhere that offers this service so I make a point of connecting with the media relations manager and trying to learn as much from him as possible. If you have an interest in planning events, see who in your organization is running an event and try to assist with the logistics. People are generally willing to lend a helping hand.

Pay me please! Oh wait, I'm already filthy rich.

Finally, of course there is the issue of salary. As much as I despise unpaid internships and believe its completely unethical and exploitative, opportunities often come in unpaid packages. I initially refused to take an unpaid internship but eventually had to succumb to one that paid a grossly low monthly stipend. The thing is, some of the people in my program refused to do it because they couldn’t afford to but ended up not working for months anyway. In the meantime, I had an internship under my belt and made extra money by working a side job.

It’s easy to get down on yourself when you’re an intern but like I said in my last post, everything is what you make it. You could think of yourself as a low-paid, unappreciated intern or you could think of yourself as a bright, enthusiastic individual who is taking the perfect beginning steps to the career of their dreams. I choose the latter.

Have you ever done an internship? If so, how was your experience? Would love to hear! 

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8 thoughts on “Get me a coffee please! (LF on internships)

  1. I had an internship at a bank the summer between my Junior and Senior year at A&M. It was the best work experience by far that I have ever had. Too bad I never got hired on there!

  2. I enjoyed this post because I was a file clerk for 2 years in college and boy did the pay suck and I had to do SO much work. I mean, I really had to work and carry boxes, drive the attorneys to court, find papers, file everything, fix things, get coffee, talk to clients, organize everything, etc. It was the craziest job I’ve ever had yet I got paid minimum wage. I will admit that the experience was amazing and the lessons I’ve learned were invaluable. I think everyone needs to do something like that because you do have to put aside your pride and just work, and be ready to learn. It was so worth it.

    • Yikes! Sounds like it definitely gave you good exposure to the field and I guess thats the whole point – even if you are stuck doing mundane tasks all day!

  3. The whole internship has been bugging me as I look for a new job. I am coming across so many internship positions within my field, all of them expecting all kinds of qualifications. I just can’t bring myself to apply for any of them because I know I would feel so used doing quality work for peanuts. I tried accepting a low paying job in this industry once and I quit on the second day after realizing what they expected of me for the low price. The problem is once other employers see that some companies are possibly getting away with hiring interns for this crucial role, they think they can cheap out too. I think it’s creating a domino effect that is doing serious harm to the industry.

    • It was really disturbing to me as well. I can say I’m glad I did it but I can’t bring myself to say it’s a great thing that everyone should be doing. I certainly don’t think unpaid internships should be tolerated but somehow companies (huge ones at that) are getting away with it. And unfortunately if people keep accepting them (guilty as charged), they’ll keep doing it. Basically I agree with you but I haven’t found a way around it thus far.

  4. Oh man, I could go on about internships all day as well, especially in media. My comms degree was at the most highly regarded institution and internships and work experience are all part of the course (especially important in journalism IMO, while the likes of digital media/PR/advertising/TV often also do real world projects for organisations).

    I have friends in the corporate world though who’ve also found accounting/law internships immensely useful. Personally, an unpaid internship led to a part-time job led to a full-time job after university. The value depends a lot on YOU, what you put into it and what you expect out of it. (I actually wrote a post at Twenties Hacker about this: http://twentieshacker.com/how-to-rock-an-internship). I’ve also managed both paid and unpaid interns. We’re a small organisation so there’s no coffeemaking etc – it’s real work, real writing for publication, real experience. It does make it hard for those who can’t afford to work for free – I had an intern who worked fulltime with us over summer and worked weekends in a cafe. It really is the best and often only way to get experience and get your foot in the door. It’s such a small industry and so competitive, and people just don’t have time to take a chance on you and waste time on hand holding and training.

    I don’t think unpaid internships are inherently unethical. Like I said, it all depends on the place and the work (some people have great experiences, some not so much). Don’t know about Canada but here internships tend to be fairly short – a couple of weeks, not months (although if people want to stay on of their own accord odds are they’ll be accommodated).

    • Great insight ee! My internship does happen to be a few months (as most are here, I find) but it has been a good learning experience so far and hopefully a good gateway to a full time job. As for being unethical, I’m torn because I really do think people should be valued for their hard work.

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