Having completed one internship, and being in the midst of my second, I am learning the advantages and disadvantages of completing internships while in school. We often hear from parents, professors, and employers that internships are the gateway to careers and graduate programs. We rarely hear about disadvantages in doing internships, and we often don’t delve into what the real advantages of internships can be, both socially and personally. I am going to take a stab at revealing to you my experience with internships, and how they have been both advantageous and disadvantageous for me.
First comes the debate about paid versus volunteer internships. Most of our parents and professors will proclaim ‘til the cows come home that we should still take part in internships, even if we are not being paid for our time and effort. My take on paid versus unpaid … I have had one of each now, and I have to say, although I am being paid a small stipend for my current internship, I probably got more out of my unpaid internship than I am currently getting out of my paid position.
The biggest issue with paid/unpaid internships is whether or not you can spend that time working without getting paid for it and still maintain a comfortable lifestyle. If you are living paycheck to paycheck and those extra 6-10 hours a week could be spent at a job where you would get some kind of work experience and also be paid for it, quit the unpaid internship and make sure you have food on the table. However, if you have that savings account from your childhood piggy bank and you’re cool with cruising in an Oldsmobile for another year or two, take that unpaid internship and get all the experience you can out of it.
It’s an opportunity for you to learn skills necessary for the workplace in general, gain specific knowledge that may come in handy in your career path, and network.
Now that you have agreed to take on your internship, paid or not, it is time to discover the advantages and disadvantages of being the office intern. Perhaps the biggest advantage is also a disadvantage- you often get overlooked. This is not to say that the people who you are working with are jerks and are attempting to ignore you, simply that they often forget to utilize you in the way they could and perhaps should.
This is a disadvantage because you often feel like the work you are doing is not important to the organization as a whole or to your supervisor, but it is an advantage in that you can surprise people with the amount you are accomplishing, and the quality of work you are churning out. This will lead to a stellar letter of recommendation and sense of accomplishment.
Another advantage to being office intern is your ability to float between the different areas of the company and learn about each department and how it contributes to the whole. Again, a disadvantage is linked to the advantage: working with multiple departments means they will see how great you are, covet your work, and attempt to steal your time and energy for their own projects. Which is fine, except that every department feels the same way.
All in all, internships are fantastic opportunities to get a foot in the door at different companies, to network with professionals in your field, and to learn skills that will be necessary and helpful in future experiences. Internships are a resume-builder, but even more than that, are life experiences that truly do prepare you for your future career, and help you to determine if you are headed in the right direction.