I considered beginning this article by apologizing to the freshman and sophomore classes. I wanted to apologize for talking about a subject that they shouldn't have to worry about for another year or two. Or so I thought.
Internships. Everybody wants one. No one can seem to find one.
To those of you that have acquired a coveted internship on your own volition, congratulations. To those of you who knew someone that went to Duke with the cousin of a friend of the guy from Goldman Sachs, I salute you, too.
To those of you who find yourself waking up in the middle of the night soaked in sweat because you just had a dream where you made a lifetime career out of selling kitchen knives door-to-door, don't fret; you are not alone.
In today's cutthroat, fight-for-a-job climate, internships have become equally, if not more, competitive. Students spend hours writing and re-writing painstakingly tedious resumes in an attempt to magnify their lifetime's worth of accomplishments on a single piece of paper. But what I want to know is: What exactly are we getting ourselves into?
Potentially, all the hard work it takes to prepare for internship applications and interviews will pay off. You'll get a great internship with a great company or organization and learn a lot of useful things with interesting people in an exciting work environment.
On the flip side, with the common knowledge that internships are a stepping stone toward budding job opportunities, it is a very strong possibility that the internship in question will be a miserable, cubicle-ridden, paper filing, coffee-run nightmare.
Not to sound pessimistic, because I'm well aware of the amazing internships out there, but I'm also aware of the hundreds of thousands of people applying for them. All this pressure is put on us to get a good internship to prepare us for the real world and our inevitable search for a real job. It's time to leave the summer lifeguarding job behind and "get real."
Well, if we're going to start "getting real" we should probably start thinking about how we're going to pay for an apartment, food and other necessities without any money because most of our internships couldn't pay for a pack of gum, let alone a $200-a-week apartment.
Honestly, how are people who get amazing internships in big cities like Washington, D.C. and New York supposed to live on an unpaid internship? Sure, there are those here at Richmond who are fortunate enough to have parents who can afford to pay for this, but for those who can't, what are you supposed to do? Of course you could always get another job on top of having an internship, but no one really likes mid-summer mental breakdowns, as far as I know.
In the New York Times article "The Unpaid Intern, Legal or Not," Steven Greenhouse discusses the large amount of college-aged students who are working in unpaid internships (which is approximately half of all those who currently have internships). Greenhouse writes about new internship policies and laws being implemented by many states.
These laws enforce payment to interns who fulfill the job requirements of a person who would otherwise be an employee. The article raises caution to those applying for internships because not everyone is aware of their rights as an intern.
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And not only that, but (as the article shows) many interns are afraid to speak out against ill-treatment or lack of payment at their internships because they're afraid of being blacklisted in that particular area of work. And who can blame them? Since getting an internship has become a large catalyst for career-finding success, who would want to mess it all up?
Now I'm not saying go out and quit your internship. And I'm certainly not saying don't go look for one. All I'm saying is 1.) Not having an internship is not the end of the world. 2.) Getting a local (less expensive cost of living) internship isn't always a bad thing. 3.) Know your rights (within your state) as an intern because you're entitled to more than you think.
So as the semester winds down, and summer options approach, take a good look at your resume and a hard look in the mirror and remind yourself, there's always grad school.
Contact Liz Monahan at firstname.lastname@example.org
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