Self-Preservation for Interns

In case you didn’t know, it’s, “the point.”

Are you an intern? Do you remember being an intern? When you think about your internship(s) do you find expletives floating to the surface of your thoughts?

We intern because we’re encouraged to do so, and it’s basically become a requirement at this point. My mindset, and the millennial mindset, sees that our degree won’t take us far enough. No one wants to hire a recent grad without some intern or other job related experience.

For most majors out there, we’ve got to intern. As a graphic design major, I am no exception.

The idea of free internships make me feel like chewed gum. I have become jaded about the intern process; in half of the interviews I’ve done I realized the company was simply deciding to be cheap and wanted professional quality work for the price of nothing without any significant prestige or reward in return.

Don’t be afraid to ask pointed questions in interviews. Sometimes there’s no end to the list of requirements a potential employer is asking for, but you’ve got to remember it’s a two way street. What will they do for you? You want someone to speak well of you, to help you get to that dream job, not someone who goes through interns like tissues because they don’t want to hire an actual employee.

Ask, “Where do your interns go after they intern with you? Do you hire them? Do you keep in touch for networking purposes?”

Ask, “What will the first week look like as an intern?”

Ask, “Who will be mentoring me? Will I be expected to observe only or work on real projects?”

An article from the Economist here, explains how unpaid internships are only legal if the educational value is there. That definition is vague, and many business take advantage of it. Remember it has to be educational for you, somewhere you can learn skills toward your career path and somewhere you can understand how the business world works, not somewhere where you will only be the coffee girl.

I’m not saying you should only look at paid internships, but don’t completely ignore unpaid internships. When there is a return in experience, in professional and personal relationships, in education or skill, then the work is not “free.” The exchange just happens to not be monetary. Take a look at this article on why writers like Neil Gaiman give away their work for free.

They gave away their work to get an audience. To get noticed. They’re not making monetary gains in the moment, they’re planting the seeds for future fans by literally scattering their work into the wind. Is your internship helping you do the same? You want to leave the place with people who were genuinely happy with you, and want to see you be successful. This is your training ground.

Think about your return carefully before you agree to that “portfolio opportunity.” If you haven’t heard of the Black Swan interns suing Fox Studios, here’s a recap on Slate. The unpaid interns lost even though they said they were treated like employees.

If the court isn’t in your favor, it’s up to you to be smart about internships you go for. Apply to many internships, and perform many, many interviews. Go to some interviews knowing this is just practice for you, and if they show an interest in taking you in, politely ask for more time and send a formal rejection letter or email later.

I hope this helps out somebody, if you have any questions or what some recommendations on how to prepare for an interview for a potential internship, tweet me!

Written as a response to the prompt Why Give Your Work Away For Free?