About 7 years ago I was an Intern in a large international office, this was one of the worst periods of life, I was broke, had a ton of student loans, working a second job on the side and had just relocated to city and a country where I knew very few people. Since then, luckily, things have gotten better for me, but now I am working at an office that recruits a good number of interns and that has left me wondering about the effects of internships on peoples careers.
It seems that these days it is “normal” for graduates to do not just one, but several internships before they land a job. The interns that I work with generally speak about a period of 2 years after graduation, as being dead years, meaning that they do not expect to make any money for 2 years.
Katie J.M. Baker has written an excellent piece on Jezebel entitled “Are Interns the New Housewives?” (http://jezebel.com/5973293/are-interns-the-new-housewives). Katie argues that internships cause people to be “flexible, adaptable, enthusiastic, submissive, and obedient”, and that the effects of this “conditioning” during her internships lead her to be “uncomfortable about asserting” herself, even once she had secured a “real job”. Katie references an article by Madeleine Schwartz in Dissent (http://www.dissentmagazine.org/article/opportunity-costs-the-true-price-of-internships), Madeleine argues that interns are asked to show “submissiveness and tractability, their willingness to perform work for free, interns also illustrate the flexibility and obedience demanded by contingency” and that by “requiring” young people to learn this behavior at the beginning of their careers has lifelong implications, specifically for women. Katie and Madeleine’s arguments really ring a bell for me, for a long time I have really struggled to convey my ideas. I see this in interview settings, where I struggle to show my achievements, versus the achievements of my team.
Duncan Green from Oxfam has written a great piece on interns on his excellent blog “From Poverty to Power”, (http://www.oxfamblogs.org/fp2p/?tag=interns). Duncan points out that internships are “not actually unpaid, in the broader sense that interns derive non-pecuniary benefits like skills and experience (which is, after all, why they do them)” and that from an employers perspective internships allows employers to spot good candidates and to try them out in the work environment. While that is all good and well, this strikes me as being something that could be solved with a short term contract, that would most like have the added benefit of adding value and credibility to the employee and making sure that they are covered and protected by labor laws and insurance.
In most of the places that I have worked, the senior management always talks about the difficulty in recruiting good candidates for senior positions. In my opinion, the reason that there are so few good candidates left for in the field of senior level managers is that the entrance to the development field is one that is, by in large, based on unpaid internships, networks, nepotism, and luck.
So, should you do an internship? No, but you will most like have to anyway