Why internships don’t work

It’s not for the reasons you think

I was reading an article in Entrepreneur about creating an internship program that works. In it they mentioned the Bank of America intern who died from overwork, interns that have been tasked with coffee runs at the generous rate of $1/hour (plus valuable experience), and in the end suggested changes like:

  • Making expectations clear for virgin workers
  • Establishing an open-door policy for the questions that were bound to come up
  • “Help them help you”

I don’t think these are wrong, but I don’t think they’re enough to capture what an internship should be. I’ve worked internships myself, from good ones to not-so-good ones, and I’ll share with you what makes an internship program great.

Give me meaningful work

In my opinion, an internship is a way to do meaningful work, but shielded from the responsibilities. If I, as an intern, screw up, I’m not on the chopping block.

This is great, because coming out of school, I have to entertain the possibility that there are things I don’t know.

So if I’m doing work, but exempted from the high stakes, my tasks should reflect that. I know I’m not going to be closing multi-million dollar deals with clients, but neither should I be sweeping the floors.

In my last internship, I created slides and performed research that were carried through to the final presentation with the client. People asked me to form an opinion on things, and then did me the favor of challenging why I thought that. I got to travel, dabble, and do real work, and I loved the company for giving me that opportunity.

Believe me when I say I work hard

We’re getting into the Millennial portion of the article now, so brace yourselves.

Millennials, on the whole, are not lazy. We are not narcissistic or entitled. Instead, I believe we are just more assured of what we want. By no means do we shy away from hard work, from long hours, from blood, sweat, and tears. But only if it’s for the right reasons.

You think I’m going to work 11 hours a day when 2 of those hours is spent getting coffee and lunch for full-timers? That’s not meaningful work: that’s something you outsource.

But if you give me an assignment that will be used in the final presentation, or be used by the company, and that involves my insight, my intelligence (what little of it there is), and I will give you all of my hours. And I believe most of my generation would agree on that front: we’re all willing to work hard, just as long as its for something worthwhile.


Seriously, I will give you all of my hours

Compensate me fairly

I should amend what I said earlier: I know I’m not going to be cashing huge commission checks after closing multi-million dollar deals with clients, but neither will I be sweeping the floors for experience.

Give me meaningful work. Let me make an impact. Respect my intelligence enough to entertain the possibility that I might sometimes bring some insight to the table, and then pay me enough so that I don’t have to worry about rent or food. Interns don’t get benefits, so you still save on that front, and if you can garner enough goodwill in the internship, that employee will be that much happier to come on board in the end.

Top image under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 by Flickr user afagen


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