Interning: Pre Mortem

I’m in the final stretch of my internship, and I’m starting to get the itch.  To be honest, the only reason I’ve hung on this long is because I’m a serial abandoner.  There’s something about the final stretch that makes me restless to get onto the next thing.  I was missing two courses from university when I dropped out (I finished two years later).  I dropped out of college with one final semester after I was offered a handful of jobs and an internship.  And if I didn’t have those two priors glaring at me, I’d probably be long gone from my internship.

I enjoyed the experience.  It’s nice to be young and to get to work downtown and be close to the city.  The problem is that I failed to ask the right questions, and I fear that the next generation of interns will follow suit, as few of us have many role models in interning.

I was offered an internship pretty quickly.  It was within the first handful I applied for, and I know a lot of people may have had difficulty, but I was an eager beaver and applied more than six months ahead of the pack.  The memory of summer interns was still fresh in the minds of employers when I came a-knocking.  I dressed for the part, I packaged a professional looking portfolio with my best work, and I familiarized myself with the magazine.

The problem was that I had asked what I could do for them, and not what they could do for me.  I was trying to sell them on giving me an internship rather than figure out if it was right for me.  In retrospect, I should have made sure the internship was tailored to my needs.  I came into it looking for a job and some real world experience.

I’ve asked whether they were hiring a few times and I’ve got little more than an awkward fumbling answer usually saying that someone else is in charge of the final decision.  It’s become clear, as I’ve watched at least three interns graduate unrewarded, that my internship is fruitless.

Ethically, I think this is what bothers me most.  I’m helping ‘The Man’.  This is maybe the best lesson that my internship has taught me: the world is cruel and unjust.

A typical day involves me or another intern coming up with article ideas, pitching them, and then writing them.  When I was the only intern the web content was almost 75% my own.  In some ways, that makes a man proud, but it should have been a warning sign.  Where are the hired writers?

As it turns out, I suspect my internship is simply a mill.  Writing is an often under-valued trade.  Quality is important, but making money is what really counts.  And when it comes to making money, sometimes saving money is most important.  Thus, it is revealed that a lot of my unrewarded hard work is crucial to the profit of my internship.  A very important piece of information is to talk with the other writers at the publication (if you’re not a writer talk to the hired guns in your field).

Next, on several occasions I was asked to work on articles over the weekend or overnight.  Unfortunately, I’ve slotted these times to work on projects that make me enough money to afford to go to my unpaid internship.

I spent a month’s earnings to afford my three-month unpaid internship.  It cost me over a thousand dollars to find out I wasn’t getting hired.  This is important future interns: make sure you know what it will cost.

Lastly, there isn’t a job waiting for me at the end.  Nor is the credit even that comparable to my other billings.  So for three months of work and over a thousand dollars spent, I get a credit that may or may not go on my resume.  It’s going to go below two listings that say: ‘Editor’.  You live and learn to prioritize better.

At one point, I was asked to train the newest intern on how to use our systems.  Which, in my opinion, should be avoided.  An intern training an intern should sound a little off.  The point of an internship is to gain vital experience, if you’re training the other interns, you either know enough to be hire-able or you’re un-educating fresh minds.

 

Now, there’s something more important at hand.  I didn’t get a job out of this, but I knew I didn’t need one all along.  There were always offers, I did this to get some legitimate experience and hopefully learn something.  Unfortunately for me, my understanding of industry standard programs and protocols were pretty adept.  I knew what I was doing from day one.  For some people the experience is necessary, taking the practices learned in class and applying them is a crucial step.

What matters is how we address this issue.  An internship is a great way to gain valuable industry experience, but more so it’s a great source of free labour.  Many of us don’t have a choice, we have to build our portfolio and resume, and sloughing through a series of unpaid internships may be the only way to do so.  But it should be a last resort.  If you’re willing to work for free and with no reward, it sets the standard.  Employers know they don’t need to hire you, they can just pick up some other unsuspecting students in need of experience.  Chances are your abilities are close to par and that content isn’t as important as it used to be.  Slap an editor in there to fix things up, and the product is cheaply made.

If you’re interning this summer, make certain there is something at the end of the road.  You may not get it, I don’t believe interning means hiring but if there’s no position available, what job are you interning for?

Sadly, you’re expendable.  There is no position there.  You’re just cannon fodder.  Explain to your employer in advance that not only are you committing a lot of time and energy to being an intern, it’s going to cost you money to come to and from, as well as lunches.  I think they understand that, but the first lesson of being an intern should be to look out for yourself and not for the employer.

Each generation that enters the workforce is getting a shorter and shorter end of the stick.  Working for free sucks, even if you’re getting a job in the end, nowadays one may have to work a few different unpaid internships to find steady work.  Experience is important, but at what price?  We forget the value of our education.  If you’re graduating, you’re worth something.

Ultimately, interning is a great experience provided you know what it is that you want to get out of it.  Otherwise, it’s just wasting time.

– Bryan Myers

 

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