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Internships: the Good, Bad and Ugly

By Eemusings @eemusings

Internships: the good, bad and ugly

Bad things that happened upon returning to work in the new year: everything tech-related that could go wrong went wrong. BUT OF COURSE. It’s only a matter of time before my computer refuses to turn on at all – my laptop is on its last legs.  The fact that this is the third time I’ve started writing this post, and am crossing my fingers that it doesn’t get eaten.

Good things that happened upon returning to work in the new year: Overall, it was pretty darn painless and practically pleasant. Love my coworkers, love the work.

Neutral things that happened upon returning to work in the new year: Having an intern on the first day back.

Yup, it’s time for a post about internships. I’ve given advice about how to rock an internship before over at Twenties Hacker, and now it’s time to tackle it on this blog.

My thoughts on internships from the student side

I can’t speak to internships in other industries – the 400 hours of work experience engineering students do, the formal graduate internship schemes accounting/banking/consulting firms do, or the crazy American style of unpaid internships that last for months. I can only speak for the more casual 1-2 week (usually unpaid) internship that’s basically a prerequisite to getting anywhere in the creative industries, and why it’s invaluable.

Practical experience. Look, the catch 22 for those trying to enter the workforce is the need for experience. Nobody wants to take a gamble on a newbie. The best way is to get real world experience under your belt before you graduate, through volunteering, internships, or any other way you can get it. My university was big on work experience and we did two industry placements in my final year. Those gave us good clips for our portfolio. Getting published makes you that much more legit in others’ eyes, and in today’s age, when the barriers to creative industries are basically non-existent, quality work will help you stand out.

Cold, harsh reality. Internships give you a taste for what you can really expect – and you might not like it. I know of people who never went back to their internships after only a day or two. Doesn’t say much for their commitment … but if you’re going to hate the reality of an industry, it’s better to find out now than later. TV or radio seem glamorous? Wake up to the crazy hours you’ll have to work in order to prove yourself and you’ll soon change your mind.

Making contacts. Who you know matters as much as what you know. Getting inside a workplace enables you to make contacts there that you’d never otherwise have such close access to. Make the most of it (I wish I’d done this myself), swallow those nerves and approach people.

My thoughts on internships from the supervising side

We’re all busy. That means a good intern is a godsend. A bad intern? A bad intern is very bad news.

Help us help you. We will happily answer questions, welcome ideas and suggestions, and your thoughts on the kinds of things you’d like to work on and what you’d like to learn more of. We in the creative fields are always short-staffed, so in my experience, interns generally have the opportunity get to take on as much as they’re capable of.

Help yourself. Internships should be win-win: learning and experience in exchange for some free labor. But you need to help yourself. It’s 2012; you can’t be afraid of technology. Even in a more traditional discipline, you’re going to need to use various software tools to get the job done. There’s no excuse for technological illiteracy. I don’t want to hear “I hate technology” from you. I definitely don’t want to have to explain how Dropbox works or help you figure out why the text on your browser has zoomed way out. This is the workplace, not daycare, and there’s not a lot of time for hand-holding.

There better be an ROI. Nobody wants an intern who’s going to be more trouble than they’re worth. Particularly when an intern is only around for a very short time, it’s not worth investing effort into extensive training on certain proprietary things. Ironically, sometimes I end up giving interns the plum tasks and do the grunt admin stuff myself for this reason. Basically, if having an intern around is going to hurt my productivity, then we have a problem. I don’t expect that having an intern will basically double what I can achieve, but let’s try for an output of, say, 1.5 of me. Fair enough?

 What have your experiences of internships been?


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