Interns are a vital part of the success for many students in the growth of their career. They are also a vital part of the success of many businesses. A mutually beneficial relationship is how we at Broad Street view our internship program. While our interns are not paid, we do provide a robust educational program in addition to work performed by interns. The New York Times featured a story on interns and it focused on several disgruntled interns that felt they were taken advantage of by an employer or forced to do menial tasks while they were interns. As an employer, I’d say there really are no menial tasks. As the CEO, I have crawled under desks to run power cords and hauled trash to the dumpster just as I’ve sat in meetings and conference calls to close huge deals. Both kept the company running. If I, as the CEO with 15 years experience as such, can still take out the trash why wouldn’t I expect an intern to do the same thing when asked?
I won’t jump on “this generation” as entitled, even though that was my first thought at the whining by these interns in the article, but I will say that if you join an unpaid internship and are not learning then maybe you are not paying attention or maybe you aren’t naturally curious and the job you seek isn’t right for you. The bottom line is an internship is what you make of it.
Almost all of my interns have gone on to get jobs in less than a week after the internship in the industry. That’s a fact I’m very proud of and even include it in my bio when I give speeches. I love our intern program and I love teaching the business to new graduates or students. We have so many candidates it’s a real struggle because we’d love to take on more. But, for them to have a good experience and get my time and have an opportunity to learn, we have to limit the number we accept.
I have had interns that were not “naturally curious” and were not a fit. I fire them. It’s tough to fire someone working for free, but we want to help those students and recent graduates in their career and when we don’t see that passion and understanding that everyone has to pay their dues we will cut them loose.
If employers are using interns to answer phones and go get lunch they are missing out. Fresh ideas come from those that are eager to learn and we embrace that in our interns. By the same token, it is up to the intern to make the most of their experience. Soak it up like a sponge. Listen, watch and learn. You can’t be expected to jump into a negotiation or pitch meeting or creative ideation meeting when you are so green. Experience takes time…hopefully you’ll get that from an internship program. If not…then leave the program and find an internship that fits you. My advice? Don’t complain about the company and the intern program to the New York Times. Talk about a career killer!
Good economy or bad, interns are valuable to an employer and valuable to a student. Many interns have spent years in a well respected university’s industry major program and come to our office without any real world knowledge of how business or our industry works. Interns are as old as time itself. Sitting at the feet of the masters is a wonderful way to learn.