By Rebecca Zissou
While most students know that an internship can be a valuable resume booster and a great way to establish career contacts, several myths exist about these positions. I’m sure you’ve heard it all before: interns perform the grun
t work of a company; they aren’t paid for their time; they are treated poorly by their coworkers and supervisors. As an intern myself, I’m here to dispel those rumors. Rather than let you continue to hold fast to these misconceptions, I’m here to let you know what internships are really all about.
Myth 1: You’ll be getting coffee all day long.
Although some administrative tasks may be required, many companies hire interns to work on special projects or work alongside full-time staff on real projects. Rather than sorting mail, making copies or answering phones, interns generally complete entry-level assignments and contribute to the company’s mission. So unless you’re interning at Starbucks, the only coffee you’ll be making is for yourself.
Myth 2: All good internships are at high-profile companies.
Some of the most exciting internships are with organizations you’ve never heard of. Start with what you’d like to do as an intern, and do some research on the industry and career paths. You may find the perfect internship program at an organization you may not be familiar with. Moreover, it’s often the internships at smaller, lower-profile companies that provide students with hands-on tasks and the ability to learn about all departments. Although they may not initially pack the same resume punch as some of the more prestigious organizations, it’s the work you do in your internship—not where you do it—that will really benefit your future job search.
Myth 3: Companies don’t care about their interns.
Interns often play an integral role within a company and most managers value their interns’ opinions and are interested in their perspective. After all, everyone appreciates when someone is able to make their job a little easier, and an intern’s responsibility is often to assist higher level employees. So rest assured—just because you’re an intern, your work will still be taken seriously.
Myth 4: You can’t have an internship and a summer job at the same time.
Why not? If you need to make some extra money during the summer but you also want to take an internship, you can do both. Internship coordinators, particularly if the program is low- or unpaid, understand that you may need to find additional income. Try taking a part-time internship a few days a week. You should be able to fit a traditional summer job in there, too. It’ll take some hard work, but if waiting tables or lifeguarding means you’ll be able to afford rent, you can pull it off. Plus, if you have a summer job, you’ll be able to afford that amazing unpaid internship you wanted.
Myth 5: All nonprofit internships are unpaid.
Finance and high-tech internships aren’t the only ones that pay. For those of you who are passionate about pursuing nonprofit work, you won’t have to sell your soul to earn a few extra dollars. Although nonprofit organizations tend to have tight budgets, many do offer monetary compensation to their interns. Again, you may have to do a little more research to find them, but they do exist. So don’t worry, you’ll be able to pocket some extra cash while contributing to a worthy cause.
Myth 6: You can’t get an internship as a high school student.
Although many companies target upper-level college students for internships, there are opportunities for underclassmen and even high school students. Several companies have separate programs tailored to these younger applicants, so you’ll be able to prepare for a career long before others your age. Even if an organization doesn’t advertise an internship opening for high school students, you can always contact the HR manager and volunteer your services. You may have to work a little harder to prove that you can be an asset to their organization, but landing an internship as a high school student can be a great way to learn about potential careers; plus, it’ll give you that extra edge in the college admissions process.
Myth 7: You should only take an internship in the field you want to pursue.
Although interning at a magazine if you plan on being a journalist is a great way to get your foot in the door, sometimes it just doesn’t work out. But rather than throwing in the towel, try looking at internships outside of the industry that offer similar experiences. For an aspiring journalist, marketing and communications, or PR internships will help you hone your writing and other applicable skills. In addition, aside from showing a range of skills and the ability to work in diverse environments, interning in different industries allows you to really find out what type of position you prefer. Sometimes figuring out what career you definitely don’t want can be helpful in finding the career you do want.
Myth 8: Getting an internship at a company means you’re guaranteed a full-time job.
Sadly, just because you intern at a company doesn’t mean you’ll be offered a full-time position. Especially if you intern as a current student, it’s your responsibility to keep in touch with your managers and make sure they know you’re interested in working for their company after you graduate. If you do stay in touch, you’ll stay in the front of their minds when an entry-level position becomes available. Instead of assuming you’ve already got the job, use the internship as an extended job interview, and make sure you conduct yourself accordingly. Don’t complain if they ask you to do administrative tasks, unless you want to be doing more of them. Arrive on time, dress appropriately and complete your assignments with enthusiasm. Make a good impression, and maybe you’ll be offered a full-time job. But don’t count that paycheck before it’s been written.
Myth 9: You can’t get an internship after college.
Although many internships are reserved for current students, positions are also available for recent college grads and career changers. In fact, some programs, such as those at The Economist and the U.S. Secret Service, only take graduates. For those students who need more than the designated four years to decide which career path to pursue, a postgrad internship may be an ideal choice. An internship can be extremely beneficial to anyone looking to break into a different industry or career path, no matter how old you are. So if you’re anything like Friends’ Chandler, and are a 30-something stuck in a job you hate, try an internship in a new and exciting field.
Myth 10: All interns are either unpaid or poorly paid.
“Internship” and “unpaid” no longer go hand in hand, as many companies actually offer highly competitive salaries and some pretty cool perks. Depending on the type of position, interns may receive the same benefits as full-time employees, including a free Blackberry, company trips and access to on-site massage therapy. Companies want their interns to enjoy their time in the program, both in the office and out. So along with great work experience, you’ll also have some fun.