During the summer between my junior year and senior year of college, I participated in an internship. As a Communications major, I was expected to complete an internship for college credit — and for experience.
While I didn’t receive pay (and I even had to pay for the summer credits), the experience still proved useful. Not only did I receive college credit, but I also received work experience that could help flesh out my resume, and I was able to get a great letter of recommendation from my supervisor. My networking experiences weren’t as helpful as I’d hoped, but there were some opportunities nonetheless, and I think I came out ahead overall.
There’s been a bit of hoopla over the recent Supreme Court Ruling related to unpaid interns, and a great deal of speculation about what’s next for internships. The interns in the case claimed that they did the work of paid employees while working on a film, but they weren’t paid. However, one of the requirements of unpaid internships is that there has to be some educational benefit from the program — and the interns said they didn’t get much out of the experience. A judge agreed with them.
The ruling is expected to make some employers think twice about how they run their intern programs. While there has been some hand-wringing about the death of internships, the reality is that internships probably aren’t going away. This ruling just means that there will be greater attention paid to making sure that the internships have more benefit for the participants — and that’s not a bad thing.
If you are in college and working toward a career, you want to make sure that your own internship is worth the trouble, especially if you aren’t being paid for it. Here are a few things to consider as you evaluate your internship opportunities.
How Much Work Will You Be Doing?
If you are doing your internship as part of college credit, the school often lets you know how many hours you need to put in per credit. If you can put in 15 to 20 hours a week throughout the summer, and receive the number of credits you want, it might be worth it — even if you don’t receive much (or any) pay.
You can get another part-time job if you want to earn money during your internship. Double-check the rules the college and the company have for interns. In some cases, you might not be allowed to have a job while completing your internship. You will need to weigh the value of the internship against your need to earn money.
Being the low person on the totem pole is a time-honored tradition in the United States, especially in various white collar professions. However, you need to be careful and pay attention so that it doesn’t shift into outright abuse. You don’t want to be overworked for the number of credits you receive.
What Kind of Experience Will You Get?
Consider how the experience will look on your resume. In some cases, even if all you do is run little errands and do grunt work, you can still get valuable experience that looks good, especially if you intern with a prestigious firm. If you have the chance to put your skills and knowledge to practical use it’s even better. The ability to show that you have real-world experience on your resume can set you apart from many graduates just coming out of college.
Think about what you are likely to learn, and whether or not the internship will help you advance your career. Also consider your career field. In many cases, you can gain an edge if you have practical experience to go with your book learning. These days, that experience can be a great help, since a college degree isn’t a guarantee of a job.
Will You Receive Good Recommendations?
Whether you plan to go on to graduate school, or whether you want to get a job somewhere else after you finish, recommendations can be important. Being able to turn in personal letters of recommendation for grad school or knowing that you can send a potential employer to someone you worked with can make things easier during the next stage of your career. Your internship can provide you with references that can help you along your career path.
The connections you make at an internship can also result in opportunities that might surprise you. My brother-in-law has a potential job opportunity as a result of an internship he did during the summer. It was a paid internship (but it didn’t pay well), and he met some great people ready to help him along. If you do a good job at your internship, you might land a full-time job later. At the very least, the people you meet might be able to help you advance your career later. If your intern coordinator moves to a different company in a few years, and wants to bring you along, that can be very valuable.
Other Internship Considerations
Weigh the pros and cons of your internship in other areas as well. In some cases, you might have access to free housing during the course of the internship, even if it isn’t paid (or if it pays a small amount). Some companies provide interns with a lunch as one of the perks. Pay isn’t everything, and if you can use your internship as a way to reduce other expenses, it can make the experience more affordable.
You might also get access to veterans in your industry, and have the chance to make a positive impression. If you can receive good help from a mentor at your internship, you can go much further than you expected. You might be surprised at what you can learn when you observe — and when someone is willing to take you under their wing.
An internship can be a great stepping stone to the next stage of your career. However, you want to make sure that you are getting the most out of the experience. Choose your internship carefully so that you get the best value possible.