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When you agree to work as an intern you are knowingly toeing the line between unpaid labor and a way to get ahead in your chosen career path. Due to the nature of unpaid internships, many sleazier companies have made a habit of taking advantage of their young and dedicated workers. So, knowing that it is possible to be taken advantage of, how can you make sure that you are being treated fairly?
1. Are you personally comfortable?
While you will be expected to bust your tail and work hard, you should never feel personally uncomfortable around the people you are working with. An intern is still a professional, albeit an unpaid one. This does not give your co-workers or bosses permission to be mean or rude to you or to do anything that makes you feel unsafe.
2. Are your hours and duties fair?
An intern is expected to handle a full load of work while they are 'on the clock' but they should not be expected to work as efficiently as Superman. This means that you should have a manageable allotment of work. No one intern should be required to do the work of three other people. This also goes on to the amount of hours you work, as well.
3. Do your duties match what you agreed to?
Some internships will promise one set of duties and then deliver another. If you are interning at a radio station then you should do work involved with the production of the station. You should not be expected to clean every toilet in the building or something else completely unrelated.
Knowing what you deserve as an intern will keep you from being treated unfairly.
Back before there were labor unions and a streamlined job marketplace, many people chose to send their children out to professionals to work as an apprentice. In exchange for a bit of money, this professional would teach the child how to do their craft. An internship is the modern equivalent of the historical apprenticeship. Rather than looking at your time spent as an intern as being unpaid labor, look at it as a quick way to get a lead on a great position in your field of choice.
When you work as an intern you can expect to network with successful professionals in your field of choice. If you are an intern at a law office you will get to meet great lawyers and all of the people that make the system work. Be sure to be pleasant and professional at all times. You never know who you might be working with down the line.
Past the simple opportunity to network you will also receive a great bit of resume gold. A quality internship, whether it turns into a full time position or not, will look great on your resume. Let's use that hypothetical law office as an example. So you serve a 6 month internship and get glowing reviews, but they don't have a position for you. Take that reference and experience and head over to another law office in the city. Now you have an inside track and a leg up on your competition.
Looking past even the goal of getting a job, an internship offers you the kind of education and experience that you will need to become successful in your field down the line. Reading books and going to school is great, but there's no substitute for hands on experience.
An internship can be a viable way to get your foot in the door of quality company. The way that you get moved to a full time position is by taking advantage of the time you are given as an intern and to truly impress the workers around you. Let's take a look at how you can blow the door off of an internship.
The first thing that you need to do, as an intern, is to make sure that you are always on time. Nothing throws up a red flag faster than a tardy intern or one that simple does not show up. You will quickly find yourself out the door and will have burned a bridge in the process. Be on time. Don't skip work because you are hungover, or have a headache, or want to go to the ball game. Commit now and be rewarded later!
The second thing you should do to utilize your internship is to be nice to everyone. As an unpaid intern you are at the bottom of the ladder and, in order to climb it, it helps to have a few hands reaching down to help you up. You never know who could be your boss tomorrow. So always be there with a smile and a handshake.
The last thing that you need to do is to separate yourself from the hundreds of other forgotten interns that have come before you. Work that much harder or be that much nicer. You can also offer creative solutions to common problems you across. The point is to show yourself as a valuable member of the team.
The goal of an unpaid internship is to lead to a job, right? So why would you possibly be entertaining the idea of turning down a paid position to keep your internship? It doesn't make much sense, on the surface, but it turns out that there are plenty of valid reasons to chase the internship and turn down the paid position and none of those reasons are 'because we hate money.'
The first thing that you must analyze before making a decision is what the job vs. internship will offer you in the future. If you have a law degree, for example, would you turn down an exciting internship at one of the best firms in the country to become a legal copywriter in the middle of Nowhere, Illinois? Probably not. The two positions are all about perception. In the long run you will most likely get more out of the unpaid internship than the alternative.
The second thing you must decide is: does this job offer to keep me in my field? Many times you will get a degree and then, ultimately, accept a job in an unrelated field--especially in the economy we are currently experiencing. So if you want to stay in your field perhaps you should keep chasing the unpaid internship and hope that it leads you to where your skill set can be utilized.
As you can see there are no hard and fast rules for taking a paid job over an internship even though, on the surface, most folks would take the steady paycheck. In the end the decision comes down to your goals and what you are prepared to sacrifice in the present to get you to where you want to be.
How can you solidify yourself in your career path before you even graduate with your degree? Landing an internship can be the key to professional success. Let's take a look at how to get one!
1. Call businesses in your field of education
Let's say that you are going to be graduating from college with your accounting degree within the next year or so. Now is the time to start cold-calling all of the businesses in your area. Offer yourself as a summer intern to enough places and, eventually, you will find work. Make sure the company is reputable and you could have the inside track on a paid position upon graduation.
2. Explore all school-internship programs
Many schools offer internship programs to students in certain degree programs. When you are searching for the first step of your career path it is important not to leave any stone unturned. Talk to a counselor or a trusted professor in your degree program. Find out if they have any internship placement programs available.
3. Have your resume polished and your interview skills sharp!
Nothing is worse than a missed opportunity, especially when it's due to poor interview skills. A potential intern that gives a great interview, along with a well-formatted resume, is hard to turn down!
|Jennifer Mathes, Ph.D.|