Internship Series part 2: The Cool Factor

by Marian Schembari on December 31, 2009


Just the other day I ran into a guy I went to high school with, Ed, who is an intern with a major fashion designer. He has a degree, is a helluva smart kid, but felt because of the recession he wouldn’t be able to get a paying job so chickened out and grabbed the first opportunity that came his way. Is he not gaining experience? I’m sure he his. But the time that he spends every day at the designers, he could be spending meeting people at all different designers, marketing himself to HR and going to interviews. He could instead end up somewhere he truly wants to be, with people who appreciate him for his work and his time, rather than his impressionable youth.

We also can’t forget the “cool factor”. Places like Ed’s company – designers, movie studios, event planners – have the prestige in certain circles of being The Coolest Kid on the Block and assume (correctly) that drooling kids will be falling over themselves to stuff envelopes. We’re willing to do shitty work for free so we can later say we worked for Time Warner/Burberry/Random House.

Chris Brogan wrote on his blog about the audacity of free, and how we shouldn’t be embarrassed to put a price tag on our services: “Paying something for a service or good helps us value it more.” And that’s the point now, isn’t it? Interns just aren’t valued, regardless of the “experience” they get in return.

When Jenavi Kasper resigned from her internship at a large ad agency, she wrote a letter that was later posted on a marketing blog. The response was enormous. She wrote, “When ‘helping with projections’ meant reading you numbers off a spreadsheet I became a little discouraged. When ‘working with scripts’ meant retyping scripts I was bummed. It was especially painful when I spent all morning cleaning out an office for the new girl while you guys took off to Starbucks.” She was doing assistant work. Except assistants get paid. And learn just as much as interns. So why do we still take them?

Tyler Hurst, Media Strategist at Amanda Vega Consulting, wrote me and complained about Kasper’s letter: “What I found was a meek whiner who refused to answer even the simplest questions I had”, he said. “I wanted her to be a rock star and she turned out to be a groupie.” While I don’t know this Jenavi character (she could have been the worst intern ever), she makes some excellent points. Internships are made out to be these wonderful experiences that are competitive and help us get our foot into the real world. What they really are is misleading and degrading.

Do you know what else offers amazing work experience, networking, and – gasp! – a roof over one’s head? A real job.

Tomorrow: The top 5 tips for gaining the experiences of an internship without actually having one…

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
  • http://twitter.com/marianschembari/status/7238077552 Marian Schembari

    Internship Series part 2: The Cool Factor http://bit.ly/7yc3EH

  • http://twitter.com/intmasterfeed/status/7262246148 IMasterfeed

    Internship Series part 2: The Cool Factor | Marian Schembari http://bit.ly/7qOYbx

  • http://twitter.com/eunicereyes2/status/7270364213 Eunice Reyes

    Internship Series part 2: The Cool Factor | Marian Schembari: http://url4.eu/11oEg

  • http://brittanybelt.tumblr.com/ Brittany

    I’ve been following your blog for quite some time, and I was particularly interested to read your thoughts on the whole “internship” experience. Perhaps it’s having pursued internships in different industries, but I believe the reason I am currently working in a company I love and in an industry I find interesting is because I WAS able to collect a number of skills and form valuable connections from former internships.

    In your first article you stated the following:
    “…by taking [an internship] you also prove you can only think inside the cube and have no imagination whatsoever. Instead, prove to employers that you don’t need any hand holding. Prove you can network and gain experience without the big boss at a big company. Taking the initiative is that much more impressive than taking an internship with all the other lemmings.”

    Quite the contrary. The challenge here is to distinguish yourself from another privileged college student looking for a resume filler. Internships give plenty of opportunity to “think outside the box”, but few interns do so.

    Do the jobs no one else wants to do. Come early. Leave late. Grab something and make it your own. Make yourself absolutely invaluable. Make them miss you when you leave.

    Simply showing up and pouring cups of coffee won’t provide any value to either of you. The people that will learn and move forward from internships are those people ready and willing to go above and beyond “intern” expectations. So what if it isn’t on your list of “job duties”? Make suggestions and constantly ask what else you could be doing. At the end of your internship, you should be able to list what it is you added to the organization/project/team. Anyone can show up to a company and work 8 weeks doing exactly what is expected of you as an “intern”. Be more than that.

    Equally important to setting yourself apart from the “lemmings” is choosing the right organization to intern with. What is the most important thing you wish to take away from the experience? Is it networking? Is it learning a particular tech platform? Simply sending resumes around until someone agrees to give you a cubicle for the summer won’t be of any professional development value. The job I have now I received after interning for a year in college. They don’t have an internship program. I sent my resume to a VP in the company I had nannied for (while an unpaid intern elsewhere) and asked him to send it around the office. Once I had my foot in the door I went through an interview process and began working there as an intern, slowly working my way up as a contractor and later, a full time employee.

    These organizations are not there to serve you. It’s similar to applying to colleges – they don’t care how interesting you find their work. They want to know your level of dedication, innovation, and creativity that you can bring to the table. But, in my experience, they are eager to provide young professionals with as much professional guidance and mentorship as they can. Be specific about what you would like to take away from the experience, and it will help them gear the internship in a direction that will be mutually beneficial.

    Make yourself memorable, and you might just find that you ARE valued, and in doing so you’ve most likely collected some marketable skills for future endeavors.

    Internships can have tremendous value – but only if you do have the dedication and innovation to make them so. There is no need to feel isolated and apart from the organization you intern with. Why watch meetings from a distance? Find a way to get in there and add something to the conversation. Worse thing that can happen is you make a mistake (and learn from it) or realize you don’t want to work for a particular business or in a certain industry (which I did a few times).

    -Brittany

  • http://brittanybelt.tumblr.com Brittany

    I’ve been following your blog for quite some time, and I was particularly interested to read your thoughts on the whole “internship” experience. Perhaps it’s having pursued internships in different industries, but I believe the reason I am currently working in a company I love and in an industry I find interesting is because I WAS able to collect a number of skills and form valuable connections from former internships.

    In your first article you stated the following:
    “…by taking [an internship] you also prove you can only think inside the cube and have no imagination whatsoever. Instead, prove to employers that you don’t need any hand holding. Prove you can network and gain experience without the big boss at a big company. Taking the initiative is that much more impressive than taking an internship with all the other lemmings.”

    Quite the contrary. The challenge here is to distinguish yourself from another privileged college student looking for a resume filler. Internships give plenty of opportunity to “think outside the box”, but few interns do so.

    Do the jobs no one else wants to do. Come early. Leave late. Grab something and make it your own. Make yourself absolutely invaluable. Make them miss you when you leave.

    Simply showing up and pouring cups of coffee won’t provide any value to either of you. The people that will learn and move forward from internships are those people ready and willing to go above and beyond “intern” expectations. So what if it isn’t on your list of “job duties”? Make suggestions and constantly ask what else you could be doing. At the end of your internship, you should be able to list what it is you added to the organization/project/team. Anyone can show up to a company and work 8 weeks doing exactly what is expected of you as an “intern”. Be more than that.

    Equally important to setting yourself apart from the “lemmings” is choosing the right organization to intern with. What is the most important thing you wish to take away from the experience? Is it networking? Is it learning a particular tech platform? Simply sending resumes around until someone agrees to give you a cubicle for the summer won’t be of any professional development value. The job I have now I received after interning for a year in college. They don’t have an internship program. I sent my resume to a VP in the company I had nannied for (while an unpaid intern elsewhere) and asked him to send it around the office. Once I had my foot in the door I went through an interview process and began working there as an intern, slowly working my way up as a contractor and later, a full time employee.

    These organizations are not there to serve you. It’s similar to applying to colleges – they don’t care how interesting you find their work. They want to know your level of dedication, innovation, and creativity that you can bring to the table. But, in my experience, they are eager to provide young professionals with as much professional guidance and mentorship as they can. Be specific about what you would like to take away from the experience, and it will help them gear the internship in a direction that will be mutually beneficial.

    Make yourself memorable, and you might just find that you ARE valued, and in doing so you’ve most likely collected some marketable skills for future endeavors.

    Internships can have tremendous value – but only if you do have the dedication and innovation to make them so. There is no need to feel isolated and apart from the organization you intern with. Why watch meetings from a distance? Find a way to get in there and add something to the conversation. Worse thing that can happen is you make a mistake (and learn from it) or realize you don’t want to work for a particular business or in a certain industry (which I did a few times).

    -Brittany

  • http://mbreau.wordpress.com/ Melissa Breau

    I have to say I agree with Brittany here. I did an internship at Columbia University Press – and loved it. I worked with great people, who I have made an effort to get in touch with, and more importantly I learned about publishing. I also learned that while educational publishing is interesting, it’s probably not what I want to do for the rest of my life. THAT’s one of the advantages to internships.

    And, as Brittany said, I made an effort to be a go-getter. I wrote an intern manual (because I am OCD-Organized and had done most of the work already) and helped train future interns… all of which were great things to talk about when I went in to interview for my current job. They gave me things that I had done to prove I was a go-getter.

    Of course, I also do the things you mention – staying on top of industry news, etc. But anyone who wants to break into any industry should be doing those things. They shouldn’t be things that set you apart, and if you’re counting on them to do that for you, than chances are you’re going to blend in.

  • http://mbreau.wordpress.com Melissa Breau

    I have to say I agree with Brittany here. I did an internship at Columbia University Press – and loved it. I worked with great people, who I have made an effort to get in touch with, and more importantly I learned about publishing. I also learned that while educational publishing is interesting, it’s probably not what I want to do for the rest of my life. THAT’s one of the advantages to internships.

    And, as Brittany said, I made an effort to be a go-getter. I wrote an intern manual (because I am OCD-Organized and had done most of the work already) and helped train future interns… all of which were great things to talk about when I went in to interview for my current job. They gave me things that I had done to prove I was a go-getter.

    Of course, I also do the things you mention – staying on top of industry news, etc. But anyone who wants to break into any industry should be doing those things. They shouldn’t be things that set you apart, and if you’re counting on them to do that for you, than chances are you’re going to blend in.

  • Pingback: I still hate internships, but sometimes free is smart | Marian Schembari

Previous post:

Next post: