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Internship Insights

The Good:
Making the first move and getting the interview

 

The plan was to land an internship for my last semester to avoid taking extra classes. I heard about a magazine in Newtown Square that offered internships, but by mid-October the company still had not posted internship openings on the Web site and I was running out of time before class registration.

With printed directions beside me and wearing dress pants and a professional-looking jacket, I drove to the office on a rainy day during Fall Free Days.

The directions were a little sketchy, so by the time I found the office it was approaching 4 p.m.  I had already come this far, so I gathered my portfolio and resumé and walked in the front door.

A woman met me by the entrance when I stepped inside, looking at me a little skeptically. Worried that she might mistake me for some kind of salesperson, I quickly jumped into my spiel–explaining that I wanted to apply for a spring internship in the editorial department. 

She pointed out that the editors had already left for the weekend–Did I have a resumé or anything to leave with her? I was more than prepared so, instead of feeling embarrassed and saying, “I’ll stop by some other time,” I was able to hand her a resumé, a cover letter and a small binder of writing samples.  She promised to place it on the editor’s desk.

Early the next week, I got a call on my cell phone from one of the senior editors and we scheduled an interview.  Sitting at a long table in the magazine’s conference room, the editor I had spoken with on the phone offered me the position, even calling my portfolio “impressive.”

By the end of October, I was registered for a six-credit academic spring internship–which was fortunate, considering an internship ad was never posted.

 

The Bad:
When internships fall flat

 

The sad truth is that, while internships can be very useful experiences, not all of them will fill your heart with joy and reaffirm your career plans or your decision to major in this or that.  Some may even be a total waste of time.

My internship experience last summer testified to this fact.  My parents, professors and other advisors have often told me that a good internship would benefit my post-graduation job searches exponentially.  I can still hear my dad beating the proverbial dead horse with his hypothetical warning that, “If I have two similar candidates applying for the same position and only one of them has some internship experience on his resumé, there’s no question who I’m going to pick.”  Hear that?  There’s no question!  None at all! 

So, of course, I dutifully sought an internship that would fit with my English major.  I sent out several applications, was accepted at a few places, and ended up choosing what seemed like the most promising of them: a position as a copy editor and assistant publication writer at my local public television station. 

The disappointment began with little things: being secluded in a tiny drab cubicle far from any natural light, the long commute in the morning and the even longer commute home during rush hour.  I wrote these things off as minor evils that were a necessary part of entering this real world I’d heard so much about.  But it soon became clear that my summer in the real world would not be very educational either. Instead of writing or editing, I was just told to copy and paste press releases from PBS’s Web site. 

And that was the exciting part.  Most of my time was spent waiting for the computer in my cubicle to turn on and then to load Web pages.  This was, perhaps, the most soul-crushing and degrading aspect of my internship.  I was learning nothing and accomplishing very little.  Once, after a day of having my ancient computer crash on me repeatedly, I asked the IT team for a little help.  The next day, I found a post-it note on the monitor that read, “This computer is now working.  However, it’s still a slow piece of crap.”  And it was.  Oh, it was.

 

The Ugly:
The disappointing truth of an insecure industry and troubling economy

For the past two summers I had the privilege of participating in an extremely helpful and involved internship at a daily newspaper. While some interns end up regurgitating press releases and doing basic online research all summer, I was actually doing the same type of work that the publication’s full-time reporters completed.

Every week I pumped out about three or four stories, which were promptly printed at the same pace. I even saw my name on the front page more than a handful of times each summer.

In addition, I got to meet a lot of incredible people. Perhaps the craziest experience was when I spent the entire day following John McCain and his campaign bus during the presidential election race. When I got back to the office, I was immediately taken to an exclusive interview with Senator Arlen Specter before spending the evening calling the homes of local political dignitaries to get their reactions to McCain’s visit.

This is just one example of the amazing things I got to experience during my internship, which helped solidify my desire to go into the journalism industry. My editors loved my work and told our team of interns that we were the best they had ever had, so I felt confident that I could get a job with the paper when I graduated. At least during the first summer.

When I returned for my second go-round, a lot of things at the paper had changed. The obvious economic issues facing newspapers across the nation had finally hit home, and in a big way. The paper’s owners, who also oversaw a daily afternoon edition that served as our biggest rival, decided to combine the two papers, cutting about 100 jobs in the process.

Everyone in the company was affected from paper boys who no longer had an after-school job to some of the best reporters in the area. The layoffs within the News Desk were determined by seniority, meaning that some reporters with more than eight years of journalistic experience were suddenly without a job.

To make matters worse, the merger occurred at exactly the halfway point of the summer, so I got to experience all of the bumps and bruises of combining two groups of people who formerly competed with one another into a news team that was forced to grin and bear it.

If that weren’t enough, during the first week of the merger, an e-mail went out to all employees announcing that everyone in the company, including the editor-in-chief, would need to take a mandatory 5-day furlough in the next three months. This is what we call adding salt to an open wound.

I cannot tell you how many times the reporters and editors I worked with begged me to switch majors and get out of the field as soon as possible so that I wouldn’t run into the same problems they were. Logically, it all made sense, but I had finally realized that this was the job I loved and I wanted to at least try to make it work, despite the bleak conditions.

While I loved my internship and wish it would have never ended, I can’t help but feel like the time I spent there was wasted. Don’t get me wrong: the real-world experience taught me more than I could ever even hope to learn in a classroom. But, I was always under the impression that college students participate in internships to hopefully get an “in” with a company so they will be hired after graduation. I’ve seen this happen for many of my friends and classmates, but the ugly truth is that simply doing an internship does not guarantee you a job-especially if you are entering an industry that is being strongly affected by the recession. I found this out the hard way.
 

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