A brain dump of experience on internships, scams, and internship scams.
This is for younger people and/or those who will be interns.
TL;DR - no, all internships are not scams. But make extra sure you're getting something out of the unpaid ones.
I've been an unpaid intern twice and managed a paid intern once. If internship cred were a thing, I would have heavy internship cred.
Both the internships I personally had sucked. I was 18-19 at the time and didn't realize I was being taken advantage of. Both were with events promoters in New York, operations with 5 employees or less.
Look. How young. I am.
In an unpaid internship, you're supposed to be paid in knowledge. It's not supposed to be slave labor. Unpaid internships where you don't learn anything are illegal.
In the one position I did accounting (!) and graphic design. What really kept me going was this girl I was working with.
We were both dating different people at the time but my romantic self thought it'd work out.
After she left, I became increasingly unhappy. The real employees were always super late. The owner was the absolute worst.
I'd call and go "Peter where are you." He's in the elevator. Click.
Three hours later he shows up.
Then he didn't renew the office lease. I was supposed to work out of hotel lobbies, after I helped move the office furniture into storage.
"Randy are you serious???"
Whoa, I was 18 and stupid, don't judge me. I quit about a month later.
Let's recap the red flags - unpaid and working but not learning. Employees and/or owner are super late. There is no office.
Here was the silver lining. Around the time I quit, there was a lot of news about illegal internships. I filed with the NYS Department of Labor and the shady company had to pay me minimum wage for hours I'd worked.
In the other internship, similar situation, though I was doing web development. Yes I am multi-talented.
Here's the catch - I was the sole developer and the owner knew nothing about web development.
Unrealistic expectations on time requirements and capabilities, enter stage left.
I won't get into it.
For like two months at Lockheed Martin, I was in charge of an intern. That was really rewarding for both of us.
You feel this pride in helping someone along, maybe like parental pride.
I got to pass on everything I wish I'd known (about software) at his age. Plus he got 40 hours a week at ~1.5x minimum wage.
We were really working hard that first couple months on interesting stuff. Afterward we got reassigned to Boredomland but that was his last month.
So ideally with a paid internship, you earn and learn. Unless you really drop the ball you'll probably get decent references too.
Extra points for interning at a respected company or brand because that helps with future opportunities. Otherwise, intern someplace with a strong online presence.
It's okay if people go "what's that" as long as the Google results can impress them in five seconds.
Internship brain dump complete.
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