An Intern-al Debate
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An Intern-al Debate

“‘Tis the season!” That’s a heck of a way to begin a blog in April. But, April and the Spring season are not what I’m referring to. What I am referring to is the time of year when college students ““ and even those still in high school – search for a summer intern job that they hope will provide them with an edge in their eventual “real job” search.

If you’ve been reading the newspaper or listening to news programs on the radio lately, you’re no doubt aware of the opinions offered about whether intern programs exploit young people exactly at a time when they need to be making money to pay for college and other expenses. The feeling is that interns – unfairly – represent a source of cheap labor for businesses, who should be paying them in return for their service. Alternately, the interns should at least get college (or high school) credit for their time on the job.

I’m here to tell you, in my opinion and with all manner of conviction, that… it depends. If an intern is truly providing a service to a company, then the intern should be paid like any other employee (at an appropriately, probably low, pay scale based on the work performed). However, I also believe that the intern receives valuable experience and that this experience is in itself a form of pay. That’s why it doesn’t trouble me if the intern receives no monetary compensation… provided that s/he receives good supervision and mentoring.

(By the way, in my career I have often seen a major benefit of internships accrue to the employer, in that entry level employees receive their first experience in managing others. This is a benefit that the company ““ and the entry level employee ““ should truly appreciate.)

But… and this is my most important point, and a deeply held belief ““ students can benefit from almost all internships. There’s value, of course, in internship experiences that provide some grounding for one’s eventual career, or even those that serve to dissuade a young person from a potentially wrong career choice. However, any internship can provide experience in working with others; taking direction; being dependable… even showing up on time for work, day in and day out.

And, almost any internship can provide that little interesting “edge” in a job interview later on. Students ““ do not underestimate this point! When it comes time to interview for your first post-college or grad school job, you’ll be competing with many other applicants. Any experience you can bring to an interview might interest your interviewer.

So, my good readers ““ where I net out is that companies should pay for internships that contribute to the company’s business, and interns should try for an internship that pays. But, absent that, expand your choices. Work, work, work ““ even in an internship that doesn’t pay, if need be – and work your way to the paying job you want to start your career.

N.B. – There’s also a lot to be said for the college’s or high school’s role in providing for a good internship experience. I’ll address that next week.

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