Not for Nothing: Adventure in Interning, Vol. I

by SixFigureStart | June 10, 2009

  • My Vault
Last month, Todd Obolsky wrote in this space about a recent, troubling trend becoming more prevalent in today’s job market. I don’t need to tell you that budget slashing is the name of the game these days-every other news article from the past year has done that for me, many times over-and often those cuts leave little room on the payroll for much more than a skeleton crew, even when the workload requires a lot more manpower. (Or womanpower, if you want to be fair about it? Better yet, let’s go with personpower.) And that desperation is at the heart of this matter.

So where does a company look to for disposable staff on the super-cheap, when Wal-Mart and New Jersey housewives are already snatching up all the good undocumented immigrants? Why, that favored pastime of fickle Caucasians, unpaid internships. What used to be a good way for college kids to get some much-needed psychological abuse is becoming a shared experience amongst all ages and professions. Now even a 36-year-old advertising professional could spend a magical summer fetching coffee and proofreading executives’ love letters to their mistresses.

Now don’t get me wrong, I believe in Kramerica Industries as much as the next guy. But it’s easy to view this trend from a cynical standpoint: undoubtedly businesses are looking to exploit a desperate workforce for free labor, and with minimal risk. Especially when most are open to more than just students; and looking at the responsibilities some of them list, you’d think they were specifically targeting out-of-work professionals with time to kill. The listings on Craigslist, Monster and company job boards yield a startling influx of these “intern” positions in every category and department, including ones where such apprenticeships were rare or unheard of – IT, sales, security, et cetera. I’m personally waiting for one company to display the huevos to start a “custodial intern” program, just to save money on vacuuming.

But the fact is that accepting an internship, even as a non-student, can work to an advantage. Some can introduce you to new skills, applications or protocols to which you might not have had access in your past life amongst the complacently employed. And there are always connections and leads to be had, whether to further your career or gain access to a local fight club. But more than anything, as you continue seeking work in a miserable job market where solid opportunities may not arise for months, evidence that you’re remaining active and engaged during your downtime is invaluable. These days there are few things, beyond knowing their frat handshake or offering Jonas Brothers concert tickets, which will excite an interviewer faster than the words “I still shower and put on a shirt, at least three days out of the week.”

So with internships, like anything else, there’s good’uns and bad’uns. Having been out of work these past few months and trying to keep myself out of trouble, I’ve personally witnessed my fair share of both types (and I’ll leave my bosses guessing as to which category I’d place my slot here at Vault). So in the coming weeks I’ll be sharing some of my stories, and those of the wealth of unemployed peeps currently borrowing money in my social circle. I’ll highlight the positives and negatives of these experiences in order to show you, dear reader, what it’s like out here on the mean streets. You may use these as a guide for your own professional pursuits, although for liability reasons it is better advised that these only be viewed as entertainment.

For now, I’ll leave you with a piece of advice to start things off: Should you decide to pursue an internship, stick with organizations whose employees still have active benefits. Not only does it suggest the firm still enjoys at least a modicum of stability, but it provides you the intern with a proper incentive to advance—envy. Nothing gets a fire under your butt like begrudging your peers’ advantages.

--Alex Tuttle, Vault Web Content Intern

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