Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Internships: Experience now, pay later

There’s been a lot of hullabaloo lately about a former Harper’s Bazaar intern’s lawsuit against the company. A brief synopsis: this college grad was not receiving pay or academic credit and was expected to work 40-55 hours per week. It’s an all around messy situation.

Luckily, not all internships are that demanding or scandalous. Some even pay. In my 5.5 years of college and grad school, I logged in four paying internships (including one at Hearst competitor Time Inc.) and one unpaid. My duties ranged from creating PowerPoint presentations and processing freelancer invoices to performing full traffic impact analyses and stepping in as an interim managing editor for a quarterly magazine. The experiences were invaluable, and really bulked up my marketable skills.

What to look for in an internship:
  • Academic credit or pay. If you choose to forgo either, just keep in mind you are a volunteer with a fancy title (which isn’t to say it won’t be a good experience, but you’ll have much less leverage). There are some opportunities to get both, though they’re a bit harder to find.
  • Industry exposure. How involved is the company or organization within its industry? Will you have a chance to work with corporate partners or subcontractors, or attend events?
  • Hands-on experience. Find out what your tasks will be. If it’s all coffee-toting and phone-answering, you might have a nice line on your resume but few skills to show for it.
  • Mentorship. Who you will be reporting to is just as important as what you will be doing. Your direct supervisor directly impacts your experience, beyond just what tasks they give you. Always been observant…you’ll learn more than you can imagine just by watching.
  •  Potential job opportunities (bonus). Is the company in a position to potentially offer you a part- or full-time offer after graduation or at least connect you to companies that do? This isn’t a make or break type of requirement, but you should keep it in mind. Two of my internships led to job offers.
What if academic credit isn’t an option?
Say you’re a recent college grad stuck in this economy that needs experience (like the HB intern in question). You don’t qualify to receive academic credit, but are having a tough time finding paid internships in your field. Try looking at related industries that may offer paid internships to keep you close to your desired field. Freelancing and volunteering are also great options to expand your network and get your name out there.

It’s up to you whether you want to try out many different internships or stick to a few longer-term ones. Just don’t let internship horror stories discourage you.

Originally posted here. I'm doing a little experimentation with what goes on the new blog and what might be more appropriate heading back to this little blog. Thoughts?


  1. I took an unpaid, non-credit earning intership, but it was after I graduated. I'm in a field (non-profit HR) that typically doesn't offer paid internships, and since I had graduated I didn't need credit.

    It's very important for unpaid interns to know what they should (and should not) be doing. An unpaid intern should never be working as if they are an employee - this is a problem we frequently run in to at my organization - departments will request interns because they feel short staffed. In reality, an intern should create MORE work for an employer/supervisor - that's not to say interns shouldn't do anything an employee should do, but what they do should be closely supervised and there should be a strong feeling of mentorship. It's a really slippery slope and has become a big hot topic in the HR world thanks to the Harper's Bazaar case you mentioned above and others.

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