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An Inverse Look at Internships

T. Opinion

Internships can provide a student with an opportunity to obtain a hands-on experience in their chosen profession; this can also lead to disastrous consequences if the internship becomes a negative experience.

Often an internship is unpaid, or at best at a minimum wage job. Some businesses are not looking to extend your education, but instead will promote a position that will benefit the company by using an intern as free labor.

There is a criteria that must be met if an internship is unpaid. The U.S. Department of Labor, Wage and Hour Division says, in a nutshell, that:

1.) An internship is similar to training and must be given in an educational environment

2.) It must benefit the intern.

3.) Interns work under existing staff and are not to displace anyone

4.) The employer does not benefit by the activities of the intern

5. ) It does not guarantee a job

6.) The intern and employer both understand the position is unpaid.

These rules apply to “for-profit” businesses and if these criteria are not met then the employer must pay wages to the intern.

An article written by Derek Thompson, on May 12, 2012 and printed in The Atlantic, mentions that some employers are desperate for cheap work. It’s obvious who stands to gain the most from an unpaid internship when some students and recent grads may be so desperate that they will negotiate their wages down to nothing.

The unpaid internship has more negative aspects than just salary. It becomes burdensome on college and university students who usually work to cover their expenses through school. Tuitions, books, living quarters, transportation, food and incidentals all cost money. Gaining experience through an internship is optimal however that’s not always feasible if there’s no salary.

According to George Bowden, director of Sales at Sierra Cases in Vista, Calif., starting an internship program for marketing and sales has not been easy. Bowden is looking for an intern that will contribute to the company and later become a part of their team. He said he has been disappointed in the past with interns that are immature in thinking the hours of their contribution were the same as school hours.

“We’re looking for the next person who, eventually when they finish their education, can become part of our workforce,” Bowden said.

Internship ads can be found in newspapers, the Internet, magazines, discussion boards and student unions. On Indeed.com many are listed; most of the unpaid positions are at the top of the list. Some ads are looking for students with extensive knowledge in a specific field, and graduates or undergrads that don’t require training.

A salary is not always the downside to an internship. It is possible for a student to come away from their experience wanting to change their major. This happens when expectations are not clear and the employer has not been willing to let the intern apply their skills, or there is an unexpected heavy workload put upon them.

A poor relationship with management could also lead to a bad refer- ence. This could affect the student’s relationships on campus and possible future employment.

A student always runs the risk of accepting an internship thinking it might lead to employment when in fact this was never the intention. It’s always a good idea to have this understanding up front.

James Chilton, CEO and founder of Society of Financial Awareness located in San Di- ego, Calif., spoke about the use of an internship program. Chilton places a high value on youth and having interns has been a positive experience for him and the interns. He stated that it’s important for both the intern and management to understand the expectations and outcomes of the internship. Chilton has a ‘no questions asked’ policy if the agreement does not work for either party.

Looking for the right internship is no easy task. A student needs to be sure about the expectations and salary before committing to a position. Make sure there’s a place for you, that there’s work for you and that your goals and the company’s goals don’t conflict. Be prepared to admit if the internship does not align with your skills set.

You don’t want to waste time in an envi- ronment that’s not conducive to your education.

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An Inverse Look at Internships