This week I finished my summer internship. I was selected out of many to be the marketing intern at one of the top academic publishing companies in the world. It was another internship I felt honored to receive. Unfortunately, it shared the same major flaw as my other internships – it lacked useful work for me to do.
Almost every semester since the summer following my first year at UNC I followed the advice of my parents and professors. “It’s not like it used to be,” they said. “You can’t get a job with just a degree. You need internships. Now employers want experience.”
Internships put a person in an interesting place. In some cases you are simply volunteering your time in exchange for the promise of valuable experiences. One internship I had to pay to work at because it required college credit, which doesn’t come free. Finally, this summer I was a paid intern, which in my opinion all internships should be.
In theory an internship would be payment to the student in resume building skills. In reality it often equates to doing the work the advisor passed along because he or she did not want to do it. These mindless, busy work tasks, but ultimately extremely helpful to the advisor, deserve monetary payment.
At first I thought it was just bad luck on my part, a few bad internships. It happens to everyone, right? I felt fortunate that I wasn’t spending my days on coffee runs, though one time I did have to drive 45 minutes to pick up a poster. After talking with friends, bad internships seem to be a common reoccurrence. Companies want to hire interns because it looks good. Employers want an intern to pick up some of the workload. Who doesn’t love free or cheap labor? But they fail to realize the amount of work an 18-22 year old can take on. A project that might take an older employee with a full workload weeks to completely, might only take a young intern a day or two because they are devoting all of their time to the project. Then the intern is left with nothing to do and is given busy work tasks or nothing to do at all, as was my situation many times.
In my experience, the advisor writes an internship off as valuable experience because at the end of the time you get to write that you worked for the company on your LinkedIn. But the name is only half of the accomplishment. I believe internships have two purposes. 1.To teach a young individual a set of valuable and applicable job skills and 2. To help him or her decide if this is a field he or she would like to go into. Internships shouldn’t be about making a young adult run an errand or do the work someone else doesn’t feel like doing that day. The tasks should be thought out practical assignments with deadlines and carved out time for mentorship.
Internships can be extremely beneficial for both parties if done correctly. Internship advisors need to realize that hosting an intern requires work. Interns should be treated as an employee of the company who is there to learn as much as possible in a short amount of time, especially if it’s an unpaid internship. The advisor should ensure the intern has real tasks to complete and at the end of the internship walks away with a sense of accomplishment and an idea if this is the type of job he or she would like to do.
While I’ve had less than great internship experiences I learned what I do and do not want in a future job. I’m glad I took something away, but I wish the advisors at my internships had taken the time to plan meaningful assignments for me to complete instead of each day looking at their own to do list and making me their personal assistant.