After suffering one phone interview after the other and tirelessly printing out copies of your résumé, you have finally landed the perfect internship. You're ready to show the company what a rising star you are, but what can you expect on your first day? There are plenty of myths about internships these days, but we're here to tell you that you won't be spending all your precious time juggling cups of hot coffee and paper-pushing. Not everyone's boss is a Miranda Priestley a la The Devil Wears Prada, and the impression you make at your next internship can bring you that much closer to your dream job. Here are the top five internship myths, and the truth you need to know about them now.
Myth #1: Interns have no power
Sure, interns are often young, eager and willing to take on just about any task that is offered in order to make a good impression. But interns have much more value within a company than you'd think.
Kelsey Mulvey, a sophomore at Boston University, recently interned for Indie Lee & Co., a natural beauty product company based out of South Salem, New York. She found that her boss appreciated it when she spoke her mind on issues that mattered to the company.
“I think it's really important to give it your all,” she said. “Always ask them how you can help and be honest! If you're just a bobble-head at an internship, your bosses are going to think that you're passive and aren't that invested in the company.
Obviously, don't bash an idea just to sound hardcore; however, if you don't like something, tell your bosses and give them reasons why, plus great alternatives.”
Kelsey is now a brand ambassador for Indie Lee & Co., proving that speaking up pays off!
As an intern you have the chance to prove yourself, but don’t walk in on day one like you own the place. Cathy Marquez, assistant director for employer relations at the University of Maine’s career center, recommends starting an internship with an open mind.
“In my opinion (and I have worked with students and employers for 25 years), a student intern should have no expectation about having any power to make decisions on their own or to select work assignments or time off,” she says.
“An intern is a learner who brings (I would assume) some technical skills, writing and communication skills, media knowledge, possibly some research skills, and lots of energy and enthusiasm to the workplace.”
Myth #2: Interns are always busy
After watching one too many movies about recent college graduates trying to make it in the big city, you might think that your first big internship opportunity will have you running around the office all day or being delegated to constantly. This is not always the case. Think of your next internship as an extended job interview, and prove that bullet point on your résumé that says you're “self-motivated.”
Tricia Taormina, a senior at Central Michigan University, suggests finding productive ways to use those slow times.
“Interns shouldn't expect to always be given a task, or should think of something productive to do while they're waiting for another one,” she said. “For example, if you're manning their social media, what can you do in between tasks that will help increase the company's social media and site traffic?”
Michelle King, a junior at Emerson College, interned in Seventeenmagazine’s web department and was sure to use her time there wisely.
“I thought my editor wouldn't want my opinions or input,” Michelle said. “However, I quickly learned that she loves when interns send pitches. I definitely learned that if you've finished all your tasks, you should send your editor an email with a few well thought out ideas.”
Multi-tasking while you're on the job will help you stand out in a sea of interns who spend their free moments texting and refreshing their newsfeed.
Myth #3: Interns will be given grunt work only
It can be tricky to know what to expect at an internship, as employers often test interns by giving them a variety of tasks and watching how they handle them. But this doesn’t mean the only items on your to-do list will be making photocopies and tidying the storage room.
“An internship might have some tasks that are undesirable (as with any job), but you should also be learning something of value for your field or industry,” Heather Huhman, founder of Come Recommended says.
If you find yourself given only these meaningless tasks, Huhman warns, “you either made a bad choice in the company where you chose to intern, or you’re making bad choices during your internship.”
Being assertive in the workplace, even as an intern, can help turn this around. Huhman suggests proposing a project or task and explaining how it will benefit the company.
“Just because you’re the ‘new kid’ doesn’t mean you have nothing to contribute. If the internship isn't teaching you anything and isn't worth your time, don't stay! No one is forcing you,” she says.
Myth #4: Better paid internships are better quality
As a college student it can be tough to stretch your dollars, so why take a job that doesn't even pay you? There is a huge misconception that if internships aren't paid, they aren't worth your time. Internships can be a lot of work, but Kelsey, Michelle, Tricia and countless collegiettes can tell you that they make a difference.
“Pay doesn’t always equate to the experience you will receive,” says Huhman. “In fact, I would argue that it doesn’t correlate most of the time.”
When you graduate college, prospective employers will want to see that you have real experience in your field, not just a degree. Internships offer valuable lessons you won't learn in a lecture hall, not to mention they look great on a résumé. The connections you make with a company and employers in your field can last you a lifetime and even land you a permanent job.
“Let’s take a leap into the ‘real world’ of full-time jobs. Do you think the highest paid ones are the best and the lowest paid ones are the worst? As a long-time nonprofit worker, I would beg to differ. The same goes for internships. Stop thinking of them only in a financial sense. There are many more factors for you to consider before accepting the position,” Huhman says.
It can be difficult to juggle an internship anyway, let alone an unpaid position. But it is possible to find financial opportunities within your internship. For example, if you are interning for a magazine, ask if there are any paid freelancing or transcribing needs within the company. Many schools also offer scholarships or stipends to help students complete an unpaid internship.
Myth #5: Internships can only take you so far
Your internship starts early this summer and ends in August, so once fall semester rolls around, that's that — or is it? Internships are your chance to show how valuable your skills are, and how much potential you have as a possible employee.
At a magazine, for example, you may start out writing short human interest pieces about local events, but if you prove yourself as an energetic reporter and a solid writer, your editor will be encouraged to give you bigger assignments that will help strengthen your résumé and give you the on-the-job experience you're hoping for. You never know how proving your worth in small ways will lead to exciting future opportunities.
Be sure to stay in touch with your employers after your internship is over. Keep their contact information and send occasional emails keeping them up to date on what you are working on.
So now you know the truth about internships. What are some myths you have heard? Tell us about your internship experience — good, bad or ugly — below!