There was an interesting article from the NY Times about internships which you should read if you plan to be one or hire one. Don’t miss the link to the six federal legal criteria (pdf) to meet the standard. It’s a dicey situation for both parties with internships becoming the norm. Here are some concerns I have.
Employers are bombarded with internship requests and job applicants -thank Project Runway for the bubble. Since applicants can’t see what crosses our desks, let me tell you that most applicants are not reasonable. They aren’t like you. Most of the applicants are outright delusional. It is common if not typical to get requests from teenage girls who haven’t finished high school. Most of those are deleted without a second thought. Perhaps this is not fair but there is just too much competition now.
Of those who aren’t deleted, employers are wary because we know that most people want to sign on so they can network and riffle the rolodex with the goal of their future enterprise in mind. Employers want loyalty. Employers are also worried about social media.
It will be difficult for employers to consider getting an intern if they follow the federal criteria to the letter. Consider:
Among those criteria are that the internship should be similar to the training given in a vocational school or academic institution, that the intern does not displace regular paid workers and that the employer “derives no immediate advantage” from the intern’s activities — in other words, it’s largely a benevolent contribution to the intern.
Because it is so costly to train anyone, few employers are going to take one out of the goodness of their hearts. Especially now; times are tough and who can afford to do it benevolently with no return on investment?
For interns, the job situation is extremely competitive. You have to have a degree these days just to get an interview and not because you really need one but because there are so many applicants that one has to thin the herd by any means possible. In some ways, having a degree is useful to the employer because most people with degrees never go on to start their own companies because they (we) learn how hard it is. In this respect, a new graduate is less of a threat to sensitive internal discourse. The point is, all of the employers out there are aware of the bubble and while it can represent their opportunity to get the best and brightest staffing, expectations among applicants are -again- often ridiculous. Be mindful of your expectations.
I think the most troubling aspect of internships is that these opportunities favor students who have more resources; those who can afford to work for nothing. It is troubling because education isn’t leveling, education is not acting as a means to level the playing field. Entry into competitive industries will favor those with work experience over equally (or even better) candidates who couldn’t afford to take a non-paying job. For both, the situation is sobering.
Again, read the federal criteria if you find yourself in the position of hiring or becoming an intern.