Rules for Interns

Check out this article about the benefits and consequences of interning.

Learn to earn is the rule for interns
By Barbara Rose

Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO – Thomas Kemeny applied for an unpaid summer
internship at a top-rated ad agency in Florida after
graduating from Columbia College in 2005.
The aspiring copywriter, now the real deal at San
Francisco’s Goodby Silverstein & Partners, was thrilled then
to work for free.

“There’s a little bit of a psychological twist going where
they [imply], ‘We’re so good we don’t have to pay,’ ” he
said. “You think, if the law of supply and demand works and
they can pay me nothing, how many people must want this job?”

Yet in plenty of talent-hungry industries, the supply-and-
demand principle works in the intern’s favor. Big companies
that hire lots of young workers recruit as many as 75
percent of them through internships – extended tryouts,
really.

“It behooves them to pay their interns because they don’t
want to sour them on the company,” said Edwin Koc of the
National Association of Colleges and Employers.

Ninety-three percent of the association’s members offer paid
internships, and they pay surprisingly well. The average is
$16.33 an hour for an undergrad, a rate that approaches the
national $17.24 average for hourly workers, who make up four-
fifths of the workforce.

Employers not only are paying up for good interns, they are
identifying future ones at ever-younger ages – as early as
freshman and sophomore years.

Jennifer Cavanaugh, an audit partner in the Chicago office
of accounting firm Grant Thornton L.L.P., remembered a
sophomore interviewee lapsing into argot more appropriate
for a buddy.

“Dude, you have no idea,” she recalled him saying. “Then he
kind of gasped and said, ‘I just called you dude, didn’t I?’
If I was interviewing a senior and they did that, I’d have a
hard time with it. But if they’re a sophomore, I’m going to
let the rope go out pretty far.”

Competition is tough for top-rated internships. In fields
such as social service and the arts, unpaid learning stints
are still the rule. Some colleges offer stipends so students
can afford to take them.

Lee Svete, Notre Dame University’s career development
director, suggested being flexible: “Create your own
internship by proposing a project,” volunteer your services,
and take a paying job at night.

University of Illinois finance major Brandon McArthur, a
junior, took an unpaid internship last summer at an
investment advisory firm an hour’s drive from his family’s
Elmhurst, Ill., home. Then he found a paying job at a
building supply store to keep his gas tank filled.

His project involved developing a marketing plan the firm
funded. Two of 23 friends, acquaintances and family members
he persuaded to come to a promotional event signed up to be
clients. It seems the firm got the better deal – but
McArthur doesn’t agree.

The internship was valuable, he said. “Not only was it
something I learned from, I had something I could talk about
in interviews. It was also good practice for working
decorum. It was the first job I ever had where I went to
work in a tie.”

Kemeny joked that “if you do anything at an unpaid
internship, you’re already overworking.” The Florida ad
agency appropriately discounted his free labor by giving him
chores nobody else wanted to do, such as grabbing lunch for
busy people, but he managed to wrangle better assignments.

He worked one project by sticking around until midnight when
people wanted to go home and volunteering to help. “They
were like, ‘Give it a shot,’ ” he recalled.

Did he feel exploited? “Kind of, but I think it was mutual.
I was using their name [on my resume]. I think that it’s
part of the game.”

Elise Kidd, a University of Illinois graduating senior,
knocked herself out at paid internships at two big employers
over two consecutive summers.

“While I had the opportunity to learn and grow, I really had
to watch myself because it was like a three-month interview
almost,” she said. “I had pressure to perform the best I
could do and to [outperform] the other interns.”

McArthur, determined to get a paid internship this summer,
posted his resume at 65 companies and got 15 interviews
before accepting an internship at Wisconsin-based Kimberly-
Clark, where he will earn $20 an hour. A living stipend will
cover most of his rent.

What will he do with his earnings? After taking care of
expenses he plans to stash some away – including in a Roth
IRA.

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