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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

A response to Intern Nation

One of the classes I'm taking this semester is called "First Year Writing Seminar." I would consider myself a decent writer, but I chose to take the class just to make sure that my writing would be up to Rhodes's standards.

As part of this class, I have a ton of reading to do each week, and this past one was no different. We were given an excerpt from a book called Intern Nation: How to Earn Nothing and Learn Little in the Brave New Economy by Ross Perlin. His work focused on exposing the injustices towards interns that are now considered socially acceptable, and how this is a slow evolution that quickly took storm within the past few decades.

Personally, I had a hard time with internships. I applied for several last year, and unfortunately did not get any of them. I'm not griping here, I promise, but I did notice an interesting correlation between Perlin's writings and my own experience.

Perlin argues that many interns are simply taken advantage of. He writes that industries these days use young and inexperienced workers, have them work for free, and then bring in a new batch the next season. This keeps them from paying taxes, benefits, and just saves them a whole lot of money. They get all the menial tasks done for free.

But here's the thing - internships are supposed to teach you something about the industry they're in. They are not supposed to be these menial and mundane tasks that are completely unrelated to the company. Not to say that any intern is above the infamous coffee run, but if that's all they're doing, Perlin argues that that isn't right.

I have to agree with him. I was fortunate enough to have an interview with one of the firms I applied for an internship with. There were two categories - office & event. Since the office positions were filled, my opportunity was in setting up and taking down event venues. The position would take up every weekend of my summer and be physically grueling, and my pay was to be experience and exposure to the industry.

I mentioned earlier that I did not get the internship, and that's ok. A few months away from it, I think I know why - during my interview, I had the gall to ask what the path was for a paid position. I recall saying it kindly and with pure intent, but I wanted to make sure that there was opportunity for advancement. I now remember seeing my interviewer's face change drastically, and although I don't remember her answer verbatim, there wasn't a whole lot of room to move up.

My personal experience ties in with Perlin's because now I have a connection to the Intern Nation. I was shot down because I asked if there was a chance down the road that I could be paid for giving up every weekend of my summer.

Let me concede, though. I think there is value in an internship. I would love more than anything to have one this coming summer, but only if it is a position where I get to learn about a particular industry, or have hands on experience. I know that a lot of companies are hesitant to trust kids with these tasks, and I understand why they are. However, as a college kid who really wants to succeed out there someday, there's no way for me, or any of us, to burst the corporate bubble in this vicious cycle of no opportunity.

Perlin doesn't state that the internship is useless. A version of the internship has been happening for thousands of years, but the evolution of actual training into companies taking advantage of kids is what is now wrong with the internship industry as a whole, and I hope that if you or I have an internship one day, that neither of us will become a part of the mob of college kids who just can't catch a break.

How do you feel about the intern industry?

  xx, Victoria

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Thoughts? I want to read them!
xx, Victoria