Internships: The Good, The Bad, & the Unpaid

When it comes to how you spend your summers, you have a lot of options: going abroad, getting another course credit in, spending time at home with family, doing research, getting a job. But it seems almost as soon as school starts, Yale students can only talk about one thing: how they’re going to secure that coveted summer internship. What is the intern experience really like? HerCampus sat down with some students who spent their summer in a wide range of popular internship opportunities to hear their take on the intern experience and share their advice. 

Lily* ‘21 spent her summer interning for an office in the U.S. Senate.* 

HC: What were some highlights of your internship? Any memorable experiences you want to share?

Lily: The cool thing is running into people and seeing all the secret passages and buildings. It was 6:00 pm and I was in a hallway outside of Mitch McConnell’s office, in the pathway between the Senate Chamber and his office. I just felt like something important was going to happen. And then Mitch McConnell just comes walking down the hallway. I wished I could get out my phone and take a picture. Or get in his face ask him why he’s in the way of all our legislation. 

HC: Were there any negative aspects of your internship?

Lily: Honestly, the intern stress culture at times. I would just watch people Juul in the halls of the Senate. The interns are all just Juuling all the time. It’s so unprofessional but everyone is just so stressed all the time because we just have to do all the busy work for the office. Everybody was honestly really stressed for no reason; everyone just seemed really self-important. 

HC: What advice would you give to someone interested in pursuing an internship on the Hill next summer?

Lily: Make sure you’re passionate about wanting to go into public policy because, if you’re not, it’s not going to be enjoyable. But if you are, it would be an amazing experience. Don’t be afraid to reach out to people to get coffees or network or something because you only have so much time there and people do give you the time of day, which is a good thing. 

Annie*, ‘21 interned at a non-profit in New Haven. 

HC: Tell me a little bit about the non-profit where you interned. What should people know about it?

Annier: I interned with the Urban Resources Initiative, which is a local New Haven nonprofit that works in partnership with the city of New Haven and the Yale Forestry School to provide the people of New Haven with the tools and knowledge that they need to improve their neighborhoods with green spaces. 

HC: What were some highlights of your internship?

Annie: I loved getting to meet so many people from New Haven and just hearing their life stories, what they do and love about New Haven, and just seeing how much they care about where they live. They’re just willing to give their time and their life to improve the greenspaces in the city, which is amazing. So many people are so busy and won’t dedicate their time to anything that they’re not getting paid for, even if it’s a worthwhile cause. Also, I loved just gaining all the knowledge about plants and trees. 

HC: Were there any downsides or difficult aspects of the internship?

Annie: The downsides were... it was just hard work. The cool thing is that the Urban Resources Initiative helps local New Haven citizens take the lead on these projects, but that meant it was always unpredictable. You had the bones and structure of what you were doing, but if one thing went wrong in your day, it could throw off everything else. Everything is up to the community members, otherwise it would just be Yale going around and inserting itself into communities and planting trees. You don’t want to feel like you’re dominating what’s happening in the space; you want to feel like you’re empowering them to do what they want.  

Allie* ‘21 interned at a major finance firm*. 

HC: Tell me a little bit about your internship and what your role was at the firm.

Allie: So I was a summer analyst at a private equity firm in New York City in the credit group, which is basically loans. I was the only intern in my group, which was a very unique experience, because I got a lot of hands on experience with senior members of the team and was included in a lot of big meetings and was actually staffed on projects, so that was exciting. But it was definitely a very big learning curve.

HC: What were the highlights of this internship for you?

Allie: I think the attention that senior people paid to me was probably one of the highlights. By the end of the summer, most of the senior members of the team had taken me out to lunch or coffee or something, which is really important. My team was specifically very focused on hiring female interns, so I had a meeting with them at the end of the summer to talk about that, which is very reassuring. I was really lucky because given my circumstances and the small size of my group it was very noticeable that I was new, so I think if you’re interning in a much bigger group you’re more of a cog in the machine and it’s harder to have access to senior people. 

HC: Were there any difficulties you experienced this summer or any drawbacks to this internship?

Allie: Well, it was my first real employment experience. I didn’t have a traditional office work experience last summer, so this was really my first idea into the real world, which is definitely difficult after coming from such an idyllic place as Yale where you can just do what you want all the time and only do things you really want to do. And I think just adjusting to the pace of the work, because it is very long hours and definitely a grind for most of it, which is why you have to actually be sure that you like it or think that you could hack it. So it was hard to adjust for the first three weeks, probably. I was just doing my work and sitting at my desk all the time and didn’t make friends, especially since I was the only intern in my group. But by the end I realized that mental health is also important and making friends at your internship and having friends at work is also a crucial part of the experience. So definitely making friends with other interns but also younger members of my team and finding mentors and stuff like that.

HC: What advice would give to anyone who is considering an internship in finance?

Allie: In terms of getting the internship, it can seem really intimidating because a lot of people at Yale have an eye into this world from a parent or a sibling or something like that, and all of these institutions can seem very hard to infiltrate, but I would say definitely take advantage of the Yale network. Go on OCS or something like that and find alumni who work at the firm where you want to work and reach out to them because, from my experience working there, everyone who went to Yale was incredibly receptive of having coffee with me or telling me about their career experience. 

* Many internships at major finance firms or political offices ask interns to sign papers limiting the specific information they can share about their summers. In order to have the freedom to be totally candid and unfiltered with HerCampus about their thoughts and experiences, all of our interns have asked to use fake names and/or are unable to mention the names of the specific Senatorial office or finance firm of their internship.