When You Should Run Away from an Internship

Everyone knows internships are always a good way to get experience. But what this email presupposes is… maybe they aren’t?*

One of the ideas I frequently cover in these messages (and theEnglish Major’s Guide to Getting a Job) is the importance of developing skills employers value. Frankly, employers don’t care which classes you’ve taken; instead, they care what you can do.

Obtaining and completing an internship is a popular way for any college student to get real-world experience before graduation.

Having pre-graduation experience is becoming increasingly important; many jobs – even entry-level jobs – require some experience to apply. (Even certain internships require experience now!)

So how does one obtain experience before getting a job?

  1. Side projects (my preference)

  2. Internships

Getting an internship seems like a pretty obvious choice… or does it?

The sad truth is, I saw many of my classmates get internships that not only wasted their time, but actually prevented my friends from getting jobs they wanted.

(Sadly, one of these classmates is still unemployed years after graduation. Why? Because he can’t land an entry-level job with his internship experience. Sure, there’s a lot more to this story than internships, but I think you get the idea.)

Internships are a great idea when they’re with a reputable company, offer decent-to-good pay, and give you hands-on, supervised experience in the workforce you can leverage into future employment.

But there are several instances when internships should be avoided.

When Internships are a Bad Choice

I’ve reviewed dozens of articles on internships in preparing to write this message, and I noticed some things in common with “bad” internship choices. Here are my guidelines for when taking an internship could actually hurt your career possibilities:

  • When the internship offers no valuable skill building or experience (ask to contact former interns and send a quick email asking them about whether they felt it was worth their time, as well as if they’re now employed, to learn this)

  • When the internship is unpaid and you have to go into debt to complete it (in most cases, you can gain similar or better experience through a little hustle on your part)

  • When the company offering the internship leads interns into believing a job will be waiting at the completion of the internship (too many companies lead eager students on and then never deliver promised jobs, citing “temporarily” poor finances or company restructuring as convenient excuses)

  • When an intern replaces the work of a former employee (any company engaging in this practice isn’t ethical enough to be worth your time)

  • When the company lacks a strong intern plan that details the outcomes of the internship experience (not having goals is a fast path to spending the summer as the office barista)

If you’re worried about gaining the experience necessary to apply for a great job – or even a great internship – you can rest easy. In the upcoming English Major’s Guide to Getting a Job, I’ll include information about how to develop standout skills that will shoot your resume to the top of the callback pile.

*PS: Sorry for that obnoxious The Royal Tenenbaums reference in this email’s subheading. I couldn’t help myself. 😉