Opinion: Internships Aren't Everything (Still)
This OpEd is a response to Audrey Cooper's article "Internships Aren't Everything."
I’ve had three internships in my career at The King’s College. Two of them could arguably be perceived as a waste of time.
The first internship was spent working for free at a non-profit organization out of a Caffe Bene in Sunnyside, Queens. There was not yet an office space, and there never would be. After a month I spent single-handedly organizing an event at Cornell University, the Founder of the organization did not show up, and it fell on my shoulders to call the ivy league school and apologize on behalf of the organization. A couple members of the board resigned after the incident, as well as the Regional Director, and myself.
The second internship was spent learning under a marketing director who was patient, wise and eager to trust. However, the climax of my experience is hard to forget: a luncheon at a Mexican restaurant on the corporate card where our waiter turned out to be an actor in one of my coworker’s pornography films. After the waiter delivered free tequila shots and pitchers of margaritas to the group, I received a lecture from the man across from me addressed to the table about how we should replace our entire marketing department with a “hot girl” who would run around the office on the company snapchat account in little clothing. He then turned to me, the only woman at the table, and made sure to add: “no offense to you.” Later on that year, I was pulled out into the hallway by the CEO and told that they were making lay-offs, and I was fired. “Merry Christmas,” he said. It happened in the month of June.
It could be argued that 66% of my college internships have been an utter waste of time and caused emotional instability. I won’t argue that because it simply isn’t true.
My third internship was nothing short of extraordinary, but I am not allowed to write of it until it has passed, due to company procedure, so I won’t go into that.
It could be argued that 66% of my college internships have been an utter waste of time and caused emotional instability. I won’t argue that because it simply isn’t true. I would repeat every one of those experiences again (although maybe not for as long as I stuck them out), because that is where I learned my most valuable career advice. Well, that and Business Communications.
I’m not saying what I’ve learned in school and in the city are not important. That couldn’t be further from the truth. I’m not saying that emotional instability isn’t real, or that mental health isn’t a priority. Of course they are, and people don’t pay enough attention to that. But mental health isn’t and shouldn’t be based on how much free time we have left open in our schedules. How are we using that free time? I would argue that we don’t know how to recharge--we don’t know how to sit still, even when we have the time to do it.
What I am saying is that, through my internships, I’ve learned how to recognize someone’s character in a matter of minutes. I’ve learned when to trust my gut and when not to. I’ve learned to take responsibility, even when something isn’t my fault. I’ve learned how not to take something personally, even if it was personal. I’ve learned, and am still learning, what is and is not socially and morally acceptable in a work environment.
King’s encourages students to take internships early-on, and I commend them for that. We have four years as college students in New York City, to compete for some of the most competitive internships in the world, internships with application processes more competitive than some entry-level jobs. We have four years to take advantage of our student status, to have little expected of us, with an incredible opportunity to surpass expectations.
We have four years to take advantage of our student status, to have little expected of us, with an incredible opportunity to surpass expectations.
We can work in a company and have access to some of the most brilliant minds of our age, and many of those minds are willing to answer our questions, simply because we are college students. We are not their competitors, yet. We are an investment.
We have four years to practice the art of the interview, to humiliate ourselves, to fail with little punishment, to be fired without having to address it ever again. We have four years to work in companies where we get to meet the boss we want to become and learn how to navigate the boss we want to avoid. The reason my hands stop sweating in an interview is because I’ve already sat through the most embarrassing interview of my life, and it can’t get any worse than that (you can ask me about that another time).
After four years of navigating internships in New York City, I know what it feels like to be used as free labor. I also know what it feels like to be invested in by someone you admire, and it is because I have experienced both of them that I know how to decipher which is which. It is because I have felt humiliated over and over again that I know what questions to ask at the end of the interview.
Graduation still feels like a looming shadow threatening to swallow me whole, but it’s also exciting, because I’ve been practicing for this moment my entire college experience. I feel less pressure, because I know I can succeed doing a variety of different things. I know which jobs I should avoid at all costs, because I am nothing short of terrible at them.
There have been days I wondered if things would have been different if I had waited longer before I let an internship put me in my place, if I had given myself more time to simply sit back and enjoy the “college experience.” But I have enjoyed it, all of it. And If I’m being honest, I probably would have spent my second semester of college eating dollar pizza, wandering the streets, and watching too many episodes of Seinfeld had I not started an internship. I still managed to do those things anyway. Kristen Wiig once said in an Esquire interview: “I remember thinking the moment I feel fully comfortable is the moment that I have to leave.”
Internships are not everything, hardly. But they are something. They are a glimpse into a life you might have almost committed to outside of this one semester, and behind 33% of those internships, you might even like what you see.
The opinions reflected in this OpEd are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of staff, faculty and students of The King's College