The unpaid internship. While the legality of an unpaid internship is highly debated, one thing is for sure: good luck getting a job without one. Every position these days requires a highly specialized college degree along with 2-4 years of experience to be an entry-level lackey. How are we supposed to get a job out of college with that much experience? Well, after going through it, I’m now the benefactor of said unpaid interns.
While some are more fortunate (looking at you oil and gas), many of my colleagues also suffered the fate of the unpaid internship. I was lucky and had a great internship with the police doing research. The cops respected me, and I was treated as an equal. Other people I know, particularly in the finance world, had to work a full-time unpaid internship with conditions resembling a sweat shop. Today, I have my own intern. After the 43rd time telling her to call me “Bernie” and not “Mr. Madoff,” we are on good terms. To punish her, I sometimes take mundane and menial tasks I could do in 10-15 minutes and give them to her.
I’m 4 years her senior. Just a few years ago, I was her and I remember treating every task like it is the most important thing in the world. I was Pheidippides, running around letting everyone know of the victory of some useless finding. It is a weird position having someone that will do whatever you ask because they have to, but there are definitely some norms that should be part of the process.
Unpaid internships suck. They earn some “experience” and I don’t have to enter mundane Excel information. Some college programs have partnerships and hour requirements where you have to sit in meetings with their advisor. I feel like a boxing promoter whenever Liza’s (my intern’s name) advisor comes in for a quarterly visit. For all that woman knows, Liza is curing AIDS, sponsoring one of Sarah McLaughlin’s downtrodden pets, and is the most valuable member of our team. You have a mutualistic relationship: no more busy work in a trade for her getting the experience.
Don’t be a dick
I’ve heard horror stories of interns being verbally abused, overworked and unappreciated. A friend of mine overheard her boss talking about her in a sexual fashion. You can’t do that. This rule should be a lifelong goal but especially when you get these poor bastards to do free labor. Treat them with respect, and you will get much better work out of them. People do a lot better when they feel they are appreciated.
Keep them in the know
How do you expect your data monkey to work well when they aren’t working on the most updated project? I make sure that I do my part in keeping Liza in the know. I set up everything she has to do in such a way that all that needs to be done is the busy work I don’t want to do. That way, you can take all the credit and give them a “great job” at the end.
Feedback is important. If they leave their internship and have no skills, that reflects poorly on yours truly. If they are going to do their indentured servitude, you might as well share some knowledge. One of the most important things I taught Liza was the purpose of networking. I introduced her to everyone I could because you truly never know who might remember her name or if you need some help from someone. It’s not the grades you make, but the hands you shake.
I too once worked a shit internship to the tune of 500 hours. My boss made sure I “worked” 8-10 hours a day. He would sign extra hours off because he worked an unpaid internship. The internship is just another hurdle in the game of life, and we’re all in the same boat. I tell her to leave if she has nothing to do after catching her reading and trying to swiftly hide “50 Shades of Grey” for “class.”
In conclusion, having an intern is great. It is fulfilling getting to make an imprint on someone trying to make their way in the world. It felt like being an adult big brother for those of you that are ex-Greek. Interns are eager to please but they are also people. Unlike the TFM intern, these people (hopefully) will one day become fully functioning members of society, and you can treat your interns like a coaching tree. Respect is a two-way street, and besides, who the hell wants to spend their days on Excel when they could be pretending to work?.
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