Tag Archives: internship

Unpaid Internships: Post Grad Edition

Lately there’s been a lot in the news about the legality of unpaid internships. Many of the articles (and their comments) focus on college students that are required to do internships as part of their degree requirements. I was required to do an internship as part of my degree and my academic department had very strict rules as to what would count. They couldn’t be “coffee and copies” internships. Our supervisor had to be willing to sit down and have one-on-one meetings with us. While my classmates and I weren’t paid, several of us were compensated with meals during working hours or small stipends to cover traveling expenses.

A lot of colleges want their students to do internships. It gives them “real world” work experience. Companies like it because they essentially get to work with someone for a bit of time and train them now and if they like the person, they can hire them in a year or two when they graduate. Some companies are a little greedy and see it as free labor. Maybe more academic programs need to have restrictions for internships like mine did just to protect the students.

But that’s not what I’m hear to talk about today. You know what the good thing about doing an internship while you are in college is? YOU ARE IN COLLEGE. You don’t have to pay back your loans yet, you’re probably still under your parents’ insurance plans, and if you play your cards right and get an internship in the same city that your school is in, you might still get to take advantage of the cushy college lifestyle – dorm rooms and dining halls. Unfortunately, too many industries are now expecting that recent graduates take unpaid (or barely paid) internship positions.

I have a friend, let’s call her Elizabeth, that majored in Art History. Real smart girl, really knew her stuff. I had to take just the basic art history course and wanted to bash my head against my desk throughout each three hour lecture. Not Elizabeth. She was fascinated. While we were in school, she did an internship at a local, but well-known, museum. She had phenomenal grades and I’m sure if Undergrad U published a class rank, she would have been the top of the class. At the end of senior year, Elizabeth started applying for museum jobs. Now, she was well aware that entry level museum jobs were not the most well-paying, but she liked what she was doing, so she didn’t worry about it (sound familiar, student affairs folk?!). Time after time, Elizabeth was turned down. From her internship at the local museum, she had some connections and found out through the grapevine that she was a great candidate and well-liked, but just didn’t have enough experience. She asked her former supervisor and several professors how she could get enough experience to qualify for an ENTRY-LEVEL position and they all told her that she would probably have to do an internship or two AFTER graduation.

Plenty of students in the more creative fields probably hear the same thing every year. I know plenty of people who have gone out there and done it – worked for free for a year or so and then landed some awesome job. How did they support themselves? They didn’t. Their parents gave them money for rent and they worked some small part time job to get some cash for other expenses. Or maybe they were close enough to a large city with a booming industry that they just lived with their parents or other relatives! The point is, it’s hard to be an unpaid intern after graduation if you don’t have the support of others – and I’m not talking emotional support. I’m talking about money. Who’s going to pay your rent or your phone bill? What about when student loan bills start rolling in six months after graduation? The world doesn’t get put on hold because you need to do an internship before you can get a job.

Unfortunately Elizabeth did not have that sort of support. Her parents passed away during her freshman year of college. Elizabeth needed money for rent and other bills. She needed a job that provided benefits – something that a part time job wouldn’t do. She took a full time office assistant position which made finding an internship really hard – many required her to work more hours than she was able to with her full time job. Elizabeth stuck it out for quite a bit, living in the expensive New York City area, hoping to get an internship at one of the many museums in the area, but never got one. She eventually returned to our college town, as the cost of living is MUCH more manageable there.

I’m sure there are tons of people out there reading this post…okay reading articles SIMILAR to this post that are wondering why Elizabeth and many other students would choose to major in something that isn’t guaranteed to lead to a lucrative career path. Clearly Elizabeth knew that she wasn’t going to have financial support after graduation, why go for something that would require an internship? My question is (and this goes beyond the creative industries) when did entry level positions become…well…non-entry level positions? Elizabeth played her cards right – she got good grades, she did an internship in college to gain experience – but at the end of the day it wasn’t enough experience. All of the museums were looking for people that had work experience after graduation. How can these new graduates get work experience when nobody will hire them because they don’t have work experience? It’s something I see happening to a lot of my friends.

More and more lawsuits are being brought against larger companies due to their use of unpaid interns. The Labor Department has guidelines for what can be “intern” work and what needs to be paid work, but I don’t think too many companies are paying attention to those – until now. I am hoping that since these stories are getting pretty widespread coverage, the culture around unpaid internships will change, making it easier for new graduates to get started in their careers.

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A Review of My Internships

Technically, I had three internships during grad school. All three were in VERY different areas of student affairs, but one really just felt like an extension of my assistantship, so I tend to not count it.

One of my internships was with an office at a college that provided services to people with a range of…I’m going to say needs because I dislike the term “disabilities”…including test-taking accommodations (extended time, readers or writers, etc), note takers, physical accommodations (arranging for a private bathroom or ground level room), and many other things. I loved the work that the office did…the only thing was that I didn’t do enough of it! Shortly before I came on board, the director of the office left, so there were some transitional issues in the office. I don’t think the interim supervisor was ready to take on an intern and as a result, there really weren’t too many projects for me to work on. A lot of the time, I would just assist in whatever area needed help. One day I wrote someone’s test answers because the student had broken their arm in a snowboarding accident. I took on a LOT of tasks meant for student workers. I also did not have much interaction with students…something I really wanted seeing as I was going into student affairs!

Luckily, I wasn’t the only student in my program with internship issues. I think a lot of us didn’t realize that since these internships were meant for us to learn something, we could ask our supervisor to assign us tasks that would help us grow and develop the skills we wanted. As I went looking for my third internship, I thought about what I didn’t like about the past two…and yes I’m saying two because I really didn’t like that my not-really-an-internship didn’t teach me anything that I wasn’t taught due to my assistantship. Also, it was getting closer to graduation and I was beginning to think of what sort of job I wanted after graduation. I made sure to look for things that I knew were going to help me out.

This last internship was in a student activities office. I focused mostly on the “fun” stuff, like events and Greek life. There were multiple professionals working in the office, so even though I had one direct supervisor, I got to work with a lot of people! It was completely the opposite of my previous experience. The very first day I was there, one of the office workers walked me around campus, both to give me a tour and to introduce me to other campus administrators. The nature of my work had me interacting with students more frequently, but to provide even more chances for interaction, I wound up moving my “office” location so students could pass by and say hi. I was a much happier person at this internship!

Some tips when you are looking for an internship…

Ask your potential supervisor what type of projects he or she has in mind for you! You don’t want to be viewed as just an office assistant that is going to make copies and file things.

Tell your potential supervisor about some things that you would like experience with. Some might be projects you can do on your own, others might be things you’d assist with. Is he or she open to helping you get these experiences?

What are some things that you will NOT do? One of my internships (guess which one) was something that I absolutely did not want to do. I took it just to have something to do. I’m sure if I had tried harder, I could have found something else. OR I could have spoken to my supervisor about what I wanted to get out of it. While I didn’t want to be an RD for the summer, I could have thought of some projects that I was interested in.

How have your internships gone? What are the most valuable things you’ve learned from them?

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So You’re In Grad School: January

Hello there grad students. You’re probably feeling on top of the world right now. You’ve finished your finals, you’re on break, and you have some time before you need to start planning what comes next. THat all sounds wonderful. Take a moment, relax, and breath in deep. Let it out niiiccceee and slllooowwwww. Okay, moment’s over! Time to get back to work.

If you’re a first year…

Congratulations, you’ve survived your first semester of grad school! You probably see all your second year friends starting to panic about job searches and conferences. You might be thinking that you have an entire year before you have to start worrying about any of that. Sorry to bust your bubble, but there are things you should be doing now.

What are you doing this summer? If you plan on being an ACUHO-I intern or NODA intern, the deadline to register is fast approaching and soon it will be time to start making contact with schools. When applying, try to find a school that is completely different that the one you attend so you can get a completely different experience. Small schools, big schools, public schools, private schools…they all operate differently. You might find out that you like a different experience. If you don’t like it, remember, it’s only for the summer and you will know what you want when looking for your first professional job.

You also might want to start thinking about next year. Many grad programs require an internship at some point during your second year. If you plan on doing this internship at your current institution, start making connections with different departments on campus. If you attend school in a more urban area, you could possibly do this internship at another school as well.

If you have an assistantship, now is a perfect time to assess your experience. Maybe you don’t like the area of student affairs that you’re in. Is there a way you can find a different assistantship for next year? If not, is there a way to add or change your job responsibilities so it can line up with what you want to do? If you’re in Residence Life like I was, you might want to try supervising a different group of students or overseeing a different type of housing.

If you’re a second year…

I probably don’t have to tell you that it’s about to get real busy. Right about now you should be going over your resume with a fine tooth comb. Find someone, whether its a professor, supervisor, or mentor, to help you with your resume and possibly with cover letters. Also, don’t forget to update your list of references. You may want to ask your supervisor from summer or internship supervisor to serve as a reference.

There aren’t too many job listings out yet, but always check to see what is out there. You might want to use this time to devise some sort of organization system for your job search. I made a spread sheet with columns for school, brief job description, any deadlines or special requirements (look out for these!), and the dates that I applied, heard back, and any dates for interviews (fingers crossed). It’s best to come up with a system that works for you BEFORE you start applying to different jobs and wind up missing deadlines or forgetting to send thank you cards for interviews.

If you’re going to TPE or ACPA, hopefully you’ve already made your reservations! Plane tickets can be expensive. While you still have some time until those conferences, it’s never too soon to start preparing. Find someone to practice interviews with or see if you can arrange for career services to hold a program for you and your classmates. Also, you might want to see if there are any regional or career-specific job search conferences. I signed up for a regional conference as sort of a practice for TPE, but it’s where I wound up finding my job!

Best of luck and be sure to tell me about your adventures in the comments. Also, feel free to send questions my way!

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