A common theme of my younger sister’s upcoming graduation has been the question, “Have you lined up an internship yet?” I myself didn’t have an internship during school or directly after.
It wasn’t until I’d returned from Americorps and realized that a) I had no marketable skills for what I might actually want to do, and b) couldn’t get a job paying over minimum wage pretty much anywhere, that I even considered pursuing an internship. To me, it just seemed like some bogus “get ahead” farce dreamt up by big businesses to get free labor. And, as my own experiences and a recent and exciting lawsuit against Fox Searchlight illustrates, my fears were partly founded on truth.
I spent the majority of my internship with a magazine publishing house downtown Minneapolis doing basic office dirty work such as fact checking and correcting minor grammatical details that clashed with the office style guide. Rarely was I given an opportunity to do anything that I would consider to be journalistically creative, and I rarely shared more than a two-sentence conversation with my managing editor. Certainly I never felt as though the company had taken me on to impart skills that would help me as a professional.
My realization that there was no way in hell this company was going to offer me a job came hand-in-hand with my observation that interns, of which there were probably at least 10, played an integral permanent role in doing all of the company’s mindless and laborious work.
I honestly think that I learned more about the publishing industry from Wikipedia than I did during my internship.
So now when my parents yet again encourage my kid sister to get an internship, I find it very difficult to be supportive of such advice. It seems to me that many companies today have transformed the former “learning experience” and “foot in the door” of an internship into an opportunity to get a whole lot of entry-level work done for free, permanently.